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Bel Canto Paperback – April 16, 2002
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In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.
Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Reuben Iglesias, the diminutive and gracious vice president, quickly gets sideways of the kidnappers, who have no interest in him whatsoever. Meanwhile, a Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while vacationing. He comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands, and the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months.
With the omniscience of magic realism, Ann Patchett flits in and out of the hearts and psyches of hostage and terrorist alike, and in doing so reveals a profound, shared humanity. Her voice is suitably lyrical, melodic, full of warmth and compassion. Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects:
Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give, even in a novel so imbued with the rich imaginative potential of magic realism. But in a fractious world, Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Lucky Mr. Hosokawa. The well-connected Japanese businessman, now in an unnamed South American country on yet another job, is having a very special birthday party. At the home of the country's vice president, opera singer Roxane Cos will be performing for him and his guests. But what's this? Armed men invading the premises? These ragtag revolutionaries are looking for the president and disappointed that he is not there, but that doesn't stop them from holding the party goers hostage. What happens after that was, for this reviewer, a story that failed to ignite. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars) generates little tension as she moves her players around the board, and one is disappointed that there is little reflection about the head-on clash of art and life. This book is getting a big promotional pitch, however, so libraries may want to consider.
- Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
When finished, oddly enough, I had this immense feeling of humility and gratitude!
Where you are born, REALLY MATTERS!
LOVED the struggles that the author helped each character who self-actualized.
I enjoyed the story having traveled in my life. I should learn a language. What Could have been avoided was the sex. The story would have carried well just about love.
Itbis a unique love story and puts strangers together in an unusual way that they looked deeper into each other...5 stars
The setting is all in one mansion and the characters all remain the same. The dynamics both between characters and within the characters are interesting and, I have to admit, would have been difficult to achieve in a different, more free setting. This perspective was genius, I will admit. However, I am reminded that the book is based upon a similar real-life event in Peru.
I'm not sure what Bel Canto means and will have to further investigate. I am sure I missed something. My first thought is that it has something to do with the opera that is hugely present in the novel, which I did enjoy. I most likely missed a lot of things to have given it only 3 stars.
However interesting the book started, I thought that it was at least two hundred pages too long because after the hostages were taken, everything else was “what could have been”. Everyday details filled the pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story and every time I started reading I was hooked again, but it felt like great effort to finish the book. Despite that flaw, I liked that she humanized the hostages and the captors; we got to know their dreams, their motivations, their characters and what they were capable of given the circumstances.
In summary, Bel Canto opened with a great premise but devolved into what I thought was standard fare. Kudos to Ann Patchett, though, for breaching the topic.