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on February 22, 2016
I was looking at books in a library when I came across this book. I read the description on the cover and decided to give it a try. When I started on it, it was so good I could not put it down. I don't know much about operas nor have I ever attended one but since the main heroine in the story is a soprano and there are talks about parts of operas, I listened and watched the mentioned operas on YouTube and fell in love with operas. Although the story happens in a single house, it is filled with descriptions of personalities that are amazing. The book was so great that I ordered two copies for my children. I also bought "Opera 101" book by "Fred Plotkin" next to learn more about operas.
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'Bel Canto', the title of this novel, means 'beautiful singing' and this book truly sings. It is a lovely story packed with magical realism and focuses on a botched kidnapping in a third world country. The kidnappers are amateur guerrillas who had hoped to capture the president of the nation as a prisoner, only to find that he was not present at the party they crashed by coming out of the air vents. The party was a birthday celebration for a renown Japanese businessman named Katsumi Hosokawa, and present was the vice president of the country, only a figurehead, and an internationally famous soprano named Roxanne Coss. What starts off as a horrific situation of prisoners versus captors turns into something entirely different.

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.
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on August 28, 2016
I'll apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this review, I can't seem to collect my thoughts around this book. It's fine, just fine. I'm no opera aficionado, maybe that's why I found the first half cumbersome and tiring. No, it IS cumbersome and tiring. Had to pep talk myself into finishing it, then the ending is not at all what I had hoped for. NOT AT ALL, it felt like someone tricked me. Another reviewer notes that the ending made her want to throw the book off a cliff. Had Bel Canto not been on my kindle, I might have.
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on July 18, 2017
Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett

Rating: **** (4 stars)
Genre: Litterature, fiction

I truthfully had no idea what to expect when picking up Bel Canto. The title was a bit intimidating and I was afraid it was going to be some fluffy classic piece of work. However, Bel Canto is nothing like I expected.

The book was first published in 2005, so it is still a relatively modern piece of work. The title comes from the opera which is a central theme in this novel. You could probably summarize the entire book as opera is life. Except that I am not a big fan of opera and I did enjoy this book.

Bel Canto is a character novel. It is the characters more than the action that moves along the plot. The male characters are portrayed in such detail and with such depth that I could not help but fall in love with the book. The female characters, however, are cartoon characters only described by how they impact the males around them. Most of the wives are just random people who happen to raise their children. The main female character, the opera soprano, is just an idol for male affection. Everyone loves her yet she never becomes real. This is emphasized by how the story ended. The only female characters that are ever seen as people are the two female terrorists. Yet, they both start and end the book being categorized as boys, which seems to be the only way that this depth is acceptable.

The story is a very romantic idealization, that actually makes sense from a psychological standpoint. When you spend a lot of time with a person you start to see them as actual people. They no longer are just filtered by your stereotypes. There is an entire syndrome characterizing individuals who become devoted to those who are holding them hostage. This novel is an entire fictionalized account of Stockholm syndrome in beautiful prose.

As reviewed on The Book Recluse Review
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on November 13, 2017
Ann Patchett's Bel Canto is one her most famous and touted works. It is the story about a Birthday party for a South American Diplomat that brings together many close friends, family members and professional colleagues to enjoy a seated dinner and the luxury of a professional opera singer to provide entertainment. The drama unfolds in a hotel ballroom in Buenos Aries, when the party has scarcely even started and a local guerrilla terrorist group who are politically against the host of the Birthday party invade the ballroom when the lights go down and the opera singer is getting warmed up. I can't say for sure if it is has a happy ending, but one gets the feeling that Ann Patchett knows what she is doing while the tale of the hostage situation gains momentum and personal relationships amongst the hostages develop and become personal. It's a very different type of story and belongs to the literature genre. The tense is third person omniscient and as the point of view shifts from character to character, reader builds trust with narrator.
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on January 20, 2016
I'd actually give this novel a high 4-star rating. The characters were complex and interesting, as were their intricate relationships. I prefer character-driven novels over those with emphasis on action and plot. While this novel certainly had moments of high drama and suspense, these were brief and infrequent. Instead, I found myself drawn into the lives of the people in this book as they evolved within the strange isolated environment they occupied. There was a growing sense of foreboding, a knowledge that this suspension of reality could not last, that none of the inhabitants could be warned or protected.

So why not a 5-star rating? The ending, the very last page or two, left me unsatisfied by its implausibly. It seemed contrived, as if the author needed to tie up the ends of chaos neatly and make some sense of tragedy. For me, her solution did not work. Still, I recommend this book for the rest of it which did succeed in engaging me completely. I plan to read more books by this author in order to enjoy her mastery of language and rich characters.
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on January 18, 2018
I loved so many things about Bel Canto, but my favorites were the many different ways Roxane's unique voice and its effect on people are described. I also loved Patchett's nuanced approach to love and lovemaking. And, being an eternal optimist, I most dearly appreciated the untapped potential with which she infused the young guerrillas. How many Einsteins or Picassos are we not allowing to reach their potential and enhance our world? I appreciated Patchett bringing this to our attention. While she communicates many important messages to us lucky readers, she does so with a delicate, deft writing style that never feels preachy. This was my first Patchett novel. Can't wait to read all her other books!
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on August 2, 2016
Got this for a book club assignment. The ending was certainly different from what I'd expected. One of our members discovered that the book is somewhat based on a true incident that happened in Peru several years prior. Good book, easy to get caught up in the plot.
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on August 13, 2017
I love Ann Patchett! I am amazed that she can write about so many different topics and genres and yet it feels all so organic for her.
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...
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on May 15, 2013
"Bel Canto" is a mixed bag, with moments of eloquence and understated humor undone for me by lack of dramatic tension, an abrupt ending and a puzzling epilogue.

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.
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