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Bel Canto: A Novel Hardcover – May 22, 2001
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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
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.
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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 really like what Patchett attempted with "Bel Canto." It's a quirky comedy of manners in an unlikely setting: a hostage situation in a South American nation brought on by rather mild-mannered "terrorists" and involving a cosmopolitan group of foreign nationals, including a famous American opera singer. What unites the disparate characters over months of siege is love of beautiful music, embodied first by the diva but manifested through other characters as well. There are some truly lyrical passages in which individuals express how they are transported by the diva's singing, notably the humble priest's belief that her talent is a gift from God that brings listeners nearer to God. The book, whose elements of unlikely romance, miscommunication and violence parallel that of many operas, pays homage to the humanizing influence of music.
There is delightful humor woven throughout the book. One hilarious scene has a clueless captive, to everyone's horror, asking the diva whether she can cook for them. Her response is priceless. When the captives require knives to cut vegetables to prepare food, they must rely on the terrorists who, in short time, are crying over onions in the kitchen.
In drawing this humanistic portrait, dramatic tension is sacrificed. There are long stretches in which nothing happens. Because the author is so even-handed toward everyone, there is no one with suspect motives or even at cross purposes with others. The characters are all charming but not very deep. The motives of some of them are baffling and some are just sacrificial plot devices. The story comes to an abrupt climax and there is a tacked on epilogue that I'll bet few readers saw coming. The whole conclusion could have been written in a more satisfying manner (not to make it happily-ever-after, just to make it clearer as is).
"Bel Canto" has passages of real charm and beauty that I felt could not sustain the whole book. Even so, I look forward to reading Ann Patchett's other work.
But before I bought Bel Canto I knew by reading the plethora of reviews and by being familiar with the genius of Ann Patchett in general, that this was going to be a novel with a completely different pace.
And I loved it!!
But for those of you that are having trouble "getting it" ...
Here is why some people Don't "Understand" this book:
1) They are expecting a typical American Style thriller that is high in action. but lower in emotion and characterization through action like the wonderful Black List: A Thriller. Yes, these books are great, but they are different.
2) They have never read the English thriller books such as Where Eagles Dare that are very, very descriptive of every character and the "situations" they are in. Bel Canto is very much written like a true English thriller.
3) They are utterly unfamiliar with the genre of literary fiction such as People of the Book and are perhaps don't have the right kind of attention span.
Here why people "Love, Love, Love" this book:
1) The tension starts off with a bang then continues to build to peaks and valleys through out the book, making them always want to know what is around the corner.
2) The real-ness of the characters that are so unique yet so fabulously true to type. Byt he end of the book every reader know he will take this characters with him for the rest of his life.
3) The privileged look the reader gets inside the culture and psychological progression of a long term hostage situation.
4) When an intelligent reader reads this or any of Ann Patchett's books, he is changed forever. Your perspective and your thoughts are changed forever.
If you take your time and read this book, you will thank me forever.
Also you might want to re-read The Godfather this book is definitely worth a second round.