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Bel Canto CD Audio CD – Audiobook, September 25, 2007
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From the Back Cover
Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening—until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.
But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.
Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers.
About the Author
ANN PATCHETT is the author of seven novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, and Commonwealth. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction, Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer, Lucy Grealy, What now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and, most recently, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays.
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Roxanne has the voice of an angel, one that turns men and women's hearts and souls toward her. She is beloved by many. "Even those who saw her for the first time, before she had opened her mouth to sing, found her radiant." She had been brought to what she calls "this dismal jungle" to sing for Mr. Hosakawa in celebration of his 53rd birthday. Mr. Hosakawa has loved opera since his youth and is in awe of Roxanne. Her singing brings forth emotions from inside him that he was never aware he even had. A new world opens up for him.
The guerrillas release all the women except Roxanne, while the men remain prisoners. The captors are a bunch of amateurs, mostly young, but all holding rifles. As the captives and captors begin to interact during the hostage situation, the real beauty of this novel comes into play. People befriend one another, others fall in love,a routine develops and music fills the atmosphere. Captors and captives alike are sympathetic characters and I was only fearful of the tragedy that I felt would ensue at some point. How, I thought, could this end well?
The country where this situation occurs is never named in the novel but it is reminiscent of the Japanese Embassy Hostage Crisis that occurred in Lima, Peru in 1996. This book has been adapted into an opera and the movie rights were recently sold and the stars will be Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.
If you love literary fiction with eccentric and well-developed characters, this is a must-read. If you love music, you are in for a treat that will knock you socks off.
Katsumi Hosokawa is turning 53, not a particularly notable birthday, and in a bald faced attempt to entice him to build a factory in this backwater country, the government throws him a lavish birthday party at the opulent home of the vice president. The only reason Hosokawa agrees to attend is that the evening's entertainment is his favorite opera singer, the world-renowned Roxane Coss. But terror and fear reign when armed gunmen storm the house and take hostage well over 100 people from a myriad of countries, who speak a myriad of languages. The standoff lasts for months, and during that time the hostages and their captors eventually form what could be described as a near utopia.
Magnificently written with vividly drawn characters, this book is pure genius. The prose is so breathtaking in spots that it is almost poetic, while the storytelling—told individually from many characters' point of view—is absolutely superb. This book is a real treasure.
Bonus: The epilogue qualifies as a surprise ending—but one that also makes total sense.
I enjoyed the interview with her about the writing of Bel Canto at the end of my kindle version. It gave me more insight into her thoughts about it. The reason I'm not giving five stars is because, after investing so much time in these characters, the ending is just too abrupt for my taste. I knew it would be difficult to end this story and I was wondering how she was going to do it but.. it was disappointing. The epilogue helped a little but not much...
Top international reviews
Unfortunately the rest of us had a range of less positive responses. I was the one who disliked it most and I remain flummoxed by it. It's an award-winner and I expected to enjoy it. The first 80 pages or so were readable and I settled down with the expectation that it would develop — but it became, for me, steadily more tedious, flat and unbelievable. I was locked out of it, as if watching the action from behind a glass screen. Because the characters cannot speak each others' languages there is very little dialogue, so there is little chance for them to talk for themselves. Patchett instead tells us what everyone is thinking and feeling: she tells us that Mr Hosokowa and Roxane Coss (the diva who casts her spell over everyone in the house) have fallen in love though I really couldn't see or believe it.
Patchett also seems to wilfully ignore psychology. What group of men (more than 50 if I remember correctly) held hostage by some pretty lacklustre terrorists inclined to spend their days watching TV, would not attempt some kind of rebellion? What group of alpha males would be so mesmerised by the sound and sight of Roxane Coss that they would all, every one, fall in love and become passive and content to live there for ever? I did wonder if this was an allusion to the Siren, beguiling all who hear her song — but no, there was nothing sinister or complex about it.
I longed for real detail about how everyone managed for weeks without a change of underwear, or how the single intermediary managed to get enough food into the house each day to feed all the captives and their captors for so long. Or what they all did all day, because I couldn't believe they were all content to just stare out of the window looking at the scenery: not for months on end. Nothing about the book felt authentic to me. Not the setting in some unnamed South American country which is vaguely ridiculed. Not the characters, not the way they are reported as interacting with each other. Imagine my astonishment when, after I'd finished, I discovered that it was based on real events in Lima in 1996.
Someone in the book group wondered whether Bel Canto is supposed to be understood like an opera. An implausible plot that exists only to offer opportunities for big emotions and arias. Characters who react unrealistically. A lack of everyday detail. A chorus of male hostages who are mainly silent and invisible until called on to fill a scene. A sudden dramatic ending. Unfortunately, Patchett can only tell us about the music, so the novel lacks the sublime musical moments that make the ridiculousness of most operas bearable. And this is a fundamental problem when writing a novel about music. You need to hear the music, not just be told how wonderful it is.
I think possibly the only way of knowing whether you'll fall under Bel Canto's strange spell or not is to read it for yourself. If you get to page 100 and are feeling bored and uninvolved, give up. It really isn't worth continuing if you are locked out.
Whilst I was reading the book I was talking to others about it and many people I know have read it.
To my delight I found this book to give me real joy as it is an amazing study of human nature. The action is set in an unspecified South American country where a party is drawn to an abrupt ending by a group of terrorists who then take everyone as hostages.
We then follow the progress of the situation and observe how the relationships develop.
In some ways the writing is immensely claustrophobic with frequent mention of the day to day detail necessary to maintain life and sanity. Surrounding this there is much beauty and love which seems both unlikely and absolutely natural at the same time.
Inside the house the terrorists and the hostages seem content for time to drift as their lives slow down and it's very much the same for the reader. It is odd how such a gripping book took me a long time to read - that's usually a bad sign but with this book I was just savouring it.
As the end approaches the tension for the reader mounts - we know the book is running out of pages but the hostages still have no idea what is going to happen (and I loved the end of the book, it was surprising but completely plausible).
I was particularly curious about how the passing of time was illustrated. It would have been easy for the author to date time chapters (or something similar) but it is handled in a much more subtle way with the reader having to search for clues (clothes needing to be washed and beards having been grown as just two examples). We really only have a vague idea about how long the siege has been underway which is much the same for all those involved.
Patchett is an engaging writer when there is a good story to be told. I loved The Dutch House and Patron Saint of Liars, both five stars for me, but this one disappoints. She is so good with titles, isn't she? Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars...very original and captivating.
However, this was still a 3 star read for me as I did like the writing style and there were moments I really did like and hoped would develop. The ending was brilliantly written too, although I agree with the general consensus that the epilogue was unnecessary.
The story unfolds slowly, bit by bit we find out about the former lives of both the captives and captors - often with little flares of wit; the opera loving young priest and his confession is an example. The minutiae of everyday life for all these people is explored, and above all, the power of music to change and illuminate their lives runs through the whole.
The style is spare and apparently dispassionate, at least at first, and the book asks many more questions than it answers. I loved it, and will probably re-read it from time to time to again meet these wonderful characters.
A slow burn at the beginning you are drawn into the world of the hostages and the hostage takers. The pace alters with the action and the writing allows you to picture the scene and understand bit by bit the characters and their subtle personalities.
Intriguing how te interpreter worked and was able to convey thought, threats and endearments between characters with a professional distance whhich sets him apart.
Without doubt I will be reading more of Pratchett.
This is a treat of characters and relationships formed between captors and hostages. I'm still thinking about them.
Perhaps the wonder of the singing and music is a bit overblown but I explained that to myself and put it down to the intensity of the situation. Along with a few other reviews I found the ending rushed and a bit disappointing, as if the author ran out of time, word count, ideas.
But all that said, delighted to have read it and looking forward to reading more of her books.