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Bel Canto [Hardcover]

Ann Patchett
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (426 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 10 2001

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 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. But 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.

Without the demands of the world to shape their days, life on the inside becomes more beautiful than anything they had ever known before. At once riveting and impassioned, the narrative becomes a moving exploration of how people communicate when music is the only common language. 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 engenders in the reader the very passion for art and the language of music that its characters discover. As a reader, you find yourself fervently wanting this captivity to continue forever, even though you know that real life waits on the other side of the garden wall. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our bestand most important writers. It is a no novel to be cherished.

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From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You should probably read this book June 3 2009
Bel Canto

I highly recommend this book, it is very interesting.

When I started reading this book I thought it was going to be a boring "hostege changes the life of their captor" book which follows the same generic plot line shown in a million other novels published. Lets just say I was wrong and I finished it in a day because I could not put it down.

I have not read any of Ms. Patchett's novels before this one so I don't have anything to compare it to, but this is a must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read! Nov. 21 2002
By Grady Harp TOP 500 REVIEWER
I resisted reading Ann Patchett's BEL CANTO because it seemed that the recommendations came primarily from readers who don't want anything more in a book than a romantic escape from today. Now I'm wondering what is so wrong with that sort of recommendation! BEL CANTO is a good read: it captures your interest, creates a microcosm, populates the pages with people you would like to know, and keeps its story confined to one place so that the afterburn of the tale can be appreciated. Patchett knows how to keep a storyline moving even though the premise of a terrorist coups taking over a birthday party in the Vice President's mansion in a South American country and holding the hostages for nearly a month seems to stretch credibility. But given the tale (some suggest this is based on a true incident in Lima, Peru????) the author seems to want to demonstrate that within the confines of a claustrophobic camp of terrorists/hostages the saving thread is music - specifically Opera at the hands of a very Renee Fleming-like singer. Being an opera addict, it is easy for me to see how whiling away the days of captivity listening to opera might be a satisfying refuge, but to stretch that feeling to a whole amalgam of types begs indulgence. Love blossoms everywhere despite the circumstances. The ending is abrupt and unexpected and a bit too tidy. One can take umbrage with the author's spoon feeding us translations of famous arias, getting bogged down in vocal techniques, overusing the concept of a translator, etc, but in the final analysis she creates a story that does have a fine moral statement about our state of being in a world surrounded by the threat of terrorism. If somehow we can remember this little book when things turn against us, Patchett will have succeeded in writing more than the entertaining book this most assuredly is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Listen to your heart! June 27 2003
By A Customer
When I reached page 50 of Bel Canto, I told myself that this book wasn't going to be worth the time it would take to finish. It was boring, improbable--not in the good opera way; in the bad soap opera way--the characters were thin and uninteresting, and the storytelling was totally uninspiring. So I thought about putting it down. But, like so many people, I'm afraid, the reviews got the best of me. I'd heard such good things about this book, I thought I had to give it a chance. So over the next long, agonizing week, I finished the whole thing. For my efforts, I was rewarded with 250 pages of the same tedious junk and an ending so...I'm sorry, it's the only word...STUPID that you just won't believe it. You'll close the book and say...huh? You'll wonder what the hell was that all about. And you'll kick yourself for not stopping back at page 50.
I don't know who writes these good reviews, but come on, people! This book is a complete stinker. Go ahead, if you don't believe me. Read it and see.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Amy
Many people had recommended this book to me, and eventually my book club chose it as our monthly selection. While I feel this novel is worth reading, it is by no means an easy read. The setting is the confines of a Vice President's home in a South American country, in which a group of inept and somewhat sympathetic terrorists take a group of international dignitaries and an opera diva hostage.

The narrative point of view shifts between several characters, never really allowing for full character development. The constant shifting between characters creates a choppy and clumsy writing style that is, at times, difficult to read. In addition, the plot takes an eternity to unfold, while the reader is repeatedly and redundantly shown how desirable and how beautiful the opera diva, Roxane Coss, is to the others. Annoyingly, the author also assumes that everyone, characters and readers alike, are enchanted by and enamoured with opera, and subsequently the opera singer and her vocal practices take centre stage over the issues of social justice the terrorists are trying to call attention to.

The last chapters of the novel generate the most narrative tension and excitement as the hostages and terrorists finally establish meaningful relationships with each other. The most striking contrast is between the privileged lives of the dignitaries and the opera star, who even in their confinement maintain this status, alongside the poverty and illiteracy of the terrorists, who really end up as the most interesting and sympathetic characters in the novel. The conclusion of the novel seems quite unfair, unjust, and unneccessary in light of other possibilities. [Amy MacDougall]
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Format:Kindle Edition
What is it in Bel Canto that is supposed to move us? Because I couldn’t find one thing that moved me!

It should be numerous things: an intriguing idea, characters who we immediately care about, spellbinding scenes a richly developed world. But above all there should be a feeling that this story matters—a lot. I should want to live this story; I should want to be the characters. I should have the need and desire to read it. In a word, I believe there should be passion that you feel, not just the author.

It is abundantly clear that Ann Patchett loves opera maybe a little too much because she alienated anyone who is unfamiliar with the genre. It is one thing to write about your passion and put characters in that world but you have to make it believable. You have to make me believe it. To have Lady Coss this woman that everyone swoons over is ridiculous and at one point she can just sing to get what ever she wants in a hostage situation is just pathetic.

Patchett, forgot that she needed to put her characters in some suspenseful situations, maybe a little danger in a hostage situation would have made the story a little more believable. At no point are you afraid for any of the characters. The hostage situation is almost laughable. It felt totally unrealistic and that is when she lost me as a reader.

In truth, I felt like this book was a waste of paper that would have had a better life as a tree. Literally in the middle of the book I thought to myself why am I punishing myself by reading this any further.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Ann Patchett writes a beautiful story
I read this book when it was first released and was reminded recently what a wonderful story it was.I purchased this book for a friend that I know will enjoy it. Read more
Published 15 months ago by dreamer
5.0 out of 5 stars Bel Canto
This was a Christmas gift for my sister who loves Ann Patchett. She loved the look and feel of the book. Another wonderful read from the author.
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Surprising to me this book got an award. The narrator has a luxuriant voice but with an underlying mocking tone that made the book annoying to listen to.
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Published on July 22 2010 by autumnrose
4.0 out of 5 stars NOt your parents stuffy Opera
The Peruvian government is hosting a party for Japanese business man Mr. Hosokawa. In honour of his birthday, and in an attempt to encourage him to open a factory in their... Read more
Published on June 3 2010 by Heather Pearson
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book
Whatever you think this book will be like after reading the plot summary, it will surprise you. This book will make you weep on the subway.
Published on March 17 2010 by Jacqueline Ryan
3.0 out of 5 stars surreal tragicomic novel
Surreal. That's the word that comes to mind when I think of this book. Initially, when I began reading it, I was simultaneously annoyed and fascinated. Is that possible? Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2010 by Laura Fabiani
3.0 out of 5 stars Elegant but detached
I'm about a third of a way through this very elegantly-written novel. The elegantly slow pace and artistic clarity of this novel overpower its artistic reality for me,... Read more
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