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Bel Canto [Paperback]

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

July 28 2005

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Opera and terrorism make strange bedfellows, yet in this novel they complement each other nicely. At a birthday party for Japanese industrialist Mr. Hosokawa somewhere in South America, famous American soprano Roxanne Coss is just finishing her recital in the Vice President's home when armed terrorists appear, intending to take the President hostage. However, he is not there, so instead they hold the international businesspeople and diplomats at the party, releasing all the women except Roxanne. Captors and their prisoners settle into a strange domesticity, with the opera diva captivating them all as she does her daily practicing. Soon romantic liaisons develop with the hopeless intensity found in many opera plots. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars) balances terrorism, love, and music nicely here. Anna Fields has a pleasant voice and reads clearly, although she doesn't differentiate among the characters especially well. The tape quality is excellent. Recommended for large public libraries. Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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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
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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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 100 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NOt your parents stuffy Opera June 3 2010
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
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 country, they have hired opera singer Roxanne Coss to perform at the party. Unknown to them, terrorists plan to invade the party and take the President hostage. These plans are thwarted when they find that the President is not in attendence and in his place they take all the party attendees as hostages.

I listened to this as an audiobook that I downloaded from my library. It was read by Anna Fields and produced by Blackstone Audio. When I first listened to an excerpt I was a bit put off by the thick, almost too thick accent, of the reader and I remember rolling my eyes and thinking "oh no, not another overly fake accent". I decided to download anyway and give it a try. I'm glad I did as I later found that the guests at the party were from many countries and they spoke a number of languages which the reader aptly portrayed.

While Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss and their budding romance were the main focus of the story, it was to Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's translator, that the greatest role fell. Without him, everything would have fallen apart due to mis-understandings and mis-communications. It seemed to me that he was the 'sounding board' between the terrorists, the hostages, and the outside world. Most of the time he provided simultaneous translations, but at other times, he would wait before carrying messages between parties. Time for reflection or just for Gen to hold onto some control?

The character of Messner, the Red Cross representative, played the important roll of keeping the story grounded.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars What is it in Bel Canto that is supposed to move us
What is it in Bel Canto that is supposed to move us? Because I couldn’t find one thing that moved me! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cindy Beverly
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 16 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.
Published 21 months ago by Valerie J Hamilton
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable and beautiful
I read this novel a few years back and still think about it from time to time; it is a spellbinding, other-wordly, beautiful novel. Read more
Published on July 3 2011 by Foxglove
2.0 out of 5 stars Irritating Narrator
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.
Published on May 14 2011 by D. Green
3.0 out of 5 stars A Kidnapped Community
People have always been fascinated with the effects of kidnapping (certainly more so since Patty Hearst's abduction and the much talked about Stockholm Syndrome). Read more
Published on May 9 2011 by Jeffrey Swystun
4.0 out of 5 stars Bel Canto
I know they told us how it would end in the beginning of the book, but I really didn't think it would happen like that. This is beautifully told and very interesting. Read more
Published on July 22 2010 by autumnrose
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
Published on Dec 29 2009 by Joanna
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