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Bel Canto: A Novel Hardcover – May 22 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 432 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st Edition edition (May 22 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060188731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060188733
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 432 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #412,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By Grady Harp TOP 500 REVIEWER on Nov. 21 2002
Format: Paperback
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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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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