Bel Canto: A Novel Hardcover – May 22 2001
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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]
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.
Most recent customer reviews
That rare combination of an excellent plot with stellar writing. From the first pages Patchett has ceated a page-turner.Published 14 days ago by Susan
I read this years ago and it is one of the best reads I've enjoyed. Just bought it for my daughter.Published 4 months ago by colleen thompson
I had been told what an amazing read this was but when I started it I didn't feel it was so amazing...however it grew on me. Read morePublished 13 months ago by kristin ellis
badly documented, slow, talks about opera butt not properly detailedPublished 15 months ago by Jacqueline Von rue
Twisted hiyjacking... you will not put this book down. Seller sent perfect book and the price was greatPublished 21 months ago by funkylama
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 morePublished on June 8 2013 by dreamer
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 on Jan. 6 2013 by Valerie J Hamilton
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 morePublished on July 3 2011 by Foxglove