Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I enjoyed Bel Canto—maybe not as much as the people who recommended it to me, but it was interesting.
Publisher’s Description: 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.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Agent Annie says…
Bel Canto creates a very specific set of circumstances in which people get to meet others they never would have otherwise. The characters get to know each other as individuals, with individual faces and backgrounds, and the reader gets to know them all as human beings rather than just members of the group they represent—either terrorists or hostages.
I enjoy the way in which the author, Ann Pachett, moves the first person narrative seamlessly from one character to the other throughout the book. This way we get to know each of the characters’ motivations, their hopes and dreams, and in some cases, understand the love that blossoms from this seemingly impossible situation. For instance:
[Beatriz] wanted to walk down the streets in the city like any other girl and have the men tap their horns as they drove by her. She wanted to do something. “I’m going to see the priest,” she said to Alfredo. She quickly turned her face away. To cry was strictly forbidden. She thought of it as the worst thing she could do.
Father Arguedas adopted a “translator optional” policy in regard to confession. If people chose to confess in a language other than Spanish, then he would be happy to sit and listen and assume their sins were filtered through him and washed away by God exactly as they would have been if he had understood what they were saying.
In those two paragraphs, we learn so much about both Beatriz and Father Arguedas without even realizing the point of view changes focus.
Two thirds of the way through the book, Roxanne and Gen have a conversation about the nature of love and I think it sums up what this book is about.
Most of the time we’re loved for what we can do rather than for who we are… If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.
Thinking about the title, Bel Canto (which I assume means beautiful song) ultimately sums up what Roxanne has said about love. This story is about each individual’s song and what they have inside of them. The extreme situation created in the book allows the characters to express the unique pieces of themselves and reveal their inner beauty, which allows hostages and terrorists to fall in love—something that could only happen given this particular set of extreme circumstances.
And that brings us to my favorite character, Carmen, who I would have liked to meet in real life. She is a wonderful young woman, so sharp and ambitious and personable, ready to take on the world and explore it. She reveals herself to Gen and risks rejection, but ends up making a connection with him that awakens something in both of them they can never forget.
(Spoiler alert!) This makes the ending even more powerful. As long as the author chooses to stay true to the ruthless way governments deal with terrorists and hostage situations in real life, there could be no other ending.
I give this book a four and recommend it to others. I would read it again, if there weren’t so many other books to read.
If you like this book…