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Bel Canto Paperback – Aug 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060838728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060838720
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,810,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, Elle, GQ, the Financial Times, the Paris Review and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honour of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. 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 favourite soap opera--and thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian and French diplomats. A Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while on holiday. 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 centre 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. 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.


‘Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett’s fiction. Comparisons are tempting to the unabashed romanticism of Laurie Colwin, the eccentric characters of Anne Tyler, the enchantments of Alice Hoffman. But Patchett is unique; a generous, fearless and startlingly wise young writer.’

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

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
I've just finished Bel Canto and logged on to buy more Ann Patchett. I wasn't intending to submit a review until I saw some of the negative ones here! So what did I like about the novel?
Firstly, Patchett can write. She can also control a novel's development. After 50 pages I was being drawn in but also resenting the focus seeming to be solely on the hostages. However, what gathers pace as you read on is the emergence of the individuals among the young captors. This might not be to everyone's sympathies but for me Patchett avoids sentimentality while showing us the potential other lives of the youngsters involved in the hostage-taking.
I also enjoyed the way Patchett handled the complexities of what might have been a cliche, as the emotional needs of captors and hostages inter-twine. And although I have next to no interest in opera, I was impressed with how she used the power of song to reveal depths previously unknown to the characters themselves.
Unlike some previous reviewers I was struck by her characterisation, including the sense that some of the more minor figures had inner lives that might be developed further - this might also be a slight frustration, as with the priest, for example, who almost slides out of view. But that may be Patchett undermining our expectations.
And finally, I have no problem with the ending. There's one aspect of the outcome that we have always known and another that is a surprise but makes emotional sense. What more do you want?
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By DevJohn01 on 12 Oct. 2005
Format: Paperback
`BELL CANTO' is not the type of novel that I would typically read, much less enjoy, however when I purchased it I was expecting something completely different. What I was expecting was the story about political leaders and prominent businessmen being taken hostage by a terrorist group and the way that they are overthrown (sort of like `Die Hard'). is a story about political leaders and prominent businessmen (and one of the worlds most talented opera singers) being taken hostage. But it was also a story about love and relationships and the bonds that can be formed between people regardless of race, class, gender or even language.
Okay, I'll admit that it did take me while to get into this book. Maybe because it wasn't what I what I expected or maybe because I didn't quite know where the story was going. But once I did start getting into it I fell in love with the story and how the hostages related to their captors, how the hostages formed friendships with one another despite speaking completely different languages and how they all created their own little world which everyone, hostages and terrorists alike, truly began to enjoy.
I read many of the other reviews of `BELL CANTO' on this site as I always do after I finish a book and noticed that there were many that were less than flattering. And I must say that it is very unfortunate that a few misplaced commas can ruin some peoples experience in reading a story. I enjoyed Ann Patchetts novel for the beauty of the story not for the grammar or editing. Admittedly these are important aspects of a novel but, for me, they do not make or break story, which is why this is one time that I am definitely glad that I did wait until after I was finished with this book to read its reviews. I would not have wanted my experience ruined by searching for grammatical errors!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Booksthatmatter on 13 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
I usually avoid books shortlisted for major awards as the hype irritates me, but I did read Bel Canto and was very pleased too! She's a wonderfully elegant writer, deftly sketching in human relationships and building dramatic tension very subtly. I thought the unlikely terrorist leader in this was a superb creation and the mini-tragedies that play out are enthralling. The scenario sounds implausible, but was a skilful way to create an environment artificially isolated from the real world in which the author can experiment with her characters. Very impressive and very surely handled - but don't just read the prizewinner - get your hands on her other books too, particularly the Magician's Assistant
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 5 May 2010
Format: Paperback
A celebrated soprano, Roxanne Coss, has been persuaded to sing at the birthday party of a mega-rich Japanese businessman. She travels with her own accompanist and he, Mr Hosokawa, with his translator. He is a lifelong fan of Coss and it is his only indulgence to try to make his business trips correspond with venues where she is due to appear. She has been offered so much money to attend this birthday party (to which the great and the good of the host country have been asked), that she feels she cannot refuse, but oddly enough, hardly any Japanese people, let alone his wife and family are invited.

The host country (never named, but must functionally be Central American, therefore pick your own - I chose Nicaragua) is unstable, there are at least two groups of rebels hiding out in the jungle, and on the night of Coss's performance, three revolutionary generals and a motley collection of adolescent soldiers, take the whole party hostage in the magnificent house of the Vice President, Rueben Iglesias.

An interesting scenario which Patchett develops without urgency and with a number of often delightfully unexpected situations. The felicitous plot, however, is somewhat improbable and strains credibility when the rebels become complicit, tamed by the voice of Roxanne Coss, in an almost wholly benign regime within the grounds and the house, leading to a number of interesting relationships. Of course, though, it cannot end happily.

I liked the unhurried style and panache with which Patchett writes and because she develops the characters so well, I wanted it all to end well. But it wasn't the ending that let the novel down - it was the codicil. Still - ignore that and it is a very good read.
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