- Paperback: 336 pages ; Dimensions (in inches):
0.82 x 8.06 x 5.32
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; ; (April 16, 2002)
- ISBN: 0060934417
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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.
Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests
with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists
breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage.
what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something
quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people
from different countries and continents become compatriots.
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.
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
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
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