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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read!
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...
Published on 21 Sept. 2002

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No magic for me
I had never heard of Bel Canto despite it being short listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction, nor had I heard of Ann Patchett before this was chosen as my Book Group Book of the Month. As I do every month, I ordered a used copy of the book from Amazon and couldn't wait to make a start.

I quite often find I read my monthly Book Group book too quickly so that by...
Published 24 months ago by Lucy Literati


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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read!, 21 Sept. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Bel Canto (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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 12 Oct. 2005
By 
DevJohn01 (Somerset, NJ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bel Canto (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'). Well....it 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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Go on & read all of her books, 13 Aug. 2003
This review is from: Bel Canto (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
4.0 out of 5 stars No real malice, just a bullet a few inches out of place, 5 May 2010
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bel Canto (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly read story full of interesting characters., 25 April 2006
By 
G. E. Langridge (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bel Canto (MP3 CD)
I listen to audio books while driving to work and of all the books I have heard so far this is undoubtedly the best.

The story is very much character-driven and the narrator captures the voices of all the different characters brilliantly. I felt as if I got to know them and care about them and I had a growing sense of loss as the story progressed that it would soon be over.

Parts of the story are more graphic than I would normally like, for example in describing the treatment of an injury. But I found that I couldn't bring myself to skip past that section as I had to know what happened to the characters.

I did not want the story to finish and I found the final ending slightly disappointing. This did not spoil the experience for me though as the whole story is still very much alive in my memory.

It is now several months since I listened to the discs. In the meantime I have listened to other stories and forgotten them but this one stays with me. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best novels i've read, 18 Aug. 2004
By 
Joe Sherry (Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country. The novel opens at a birthday part for a Japanese business man, Mr. Hosokawa, who was wooed to that country for the chance to hear his favorite opera singer, Roxane Coss, sing for him. This is a major event for this South American country, and the Vice President is there (the President declined so he could watch his daily soap opera) and is holding the event at his home. Several other diplomatic officials, priests, and executives from Hosokawa's company are there. Most of the people at this party do not speak the same language. When Coss finishes her last song, the lights go out. When the lights come back on, the building has been taken over by terrorists.
This is only the opening of the novel. This begins a stand off lasting several months between the terrorists and the government of the country. But while the stand off provides the structure to the novel, the heart of it is inside that house. The novel is truly about the relationships between the hostages and also the relationships with the terrorists. Mr. Hosokawa does not go anywhere without his interpreter (he does a lot of international business), so Gen (the interpreter) was by his side at the party. Gen becomes a major player in the house because he is the only one who can communicate between the Spanish speaking terrorists, the Swiss negotiator outside the house, and the hostages who speak various languages (French and Russian, are the two that I can remember).
As the novel progresses, Patchett reveals the disparate cast of characters and who they are and how they came to be at this party. We see deeper into the lives of Hosokawa, Roxane Coss, the Vice President, the French Ambassador, and several others. This makes for an incredibly rich novel and Patchett provides an emotional depth to the work that I had not expected.
I was initially reluctant to read Bel Canto. I didn't think the topic sounded that interesting, but as it stayed on bestsellers lists and as I encountered more and more positive reviews, I finally decided to give it a chance. I am so glad that I did. This is one of the best novels that I have read this year.
-Joe Sherry
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No magic for me, 9 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
I had never heard of Bel Canto despite it being short listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction, nor had I heard of Ann Patchett before this was chosen as my Book Group Book of the Month. As I do every month, I ordered a used copy of the book from Amazon and couldn't wait to make a start.

I quite often find I read my monthly Book Group book too quickly so that by the time I go to the meeting a lot of the little details have been forgotten. If I start the book later in the month though, I feel like I'm rushing to finish it! So instead I start early and try to note down anything important that occurs to me whilst I'm reading. I only made two notes on this book and they are: `I'm 75 pages in and nothing has happened yet...'; `110 pages in and still nothing more...' at which point I gave up writing notes.

In order to finish reading this in time for the meeting (it takes a lot for me to give up on a book completely), I actually had to adopt a '12 page a day rule' which I studiously stuck to, with a quick burst of energy last weekend to finish it completely. I didn't enjoy it; it was a chore rather than a pleasure. But why?

Looking at other people's reviews on Amazon today the book has been described as `poignant', `very funny', `crisply written', `immaculately plotted'. So what's the story and why didn't I `get' it? I guess I can just about get the `poignant' bit; the ending could be described as poignant and was by far the bit I enjoyed the most. `Very funny' however, makes me question whether the person writing that had actually read the same book I did. There may be one (or even two at a push) mildly humorous parts, but `very funny' is absolutely outside the realms of reality here. `Crisply written' I would also dispute. `Crisp' to me describes a certain clarity of writing with an obvious purpose, maybe even a little sparse, where every word has been selected for a specific purpose. I didn't get that at all from this. And as for `immaculately plotted', well...

The basic plot concerns a group of terrorists who storm a party being held at the Vice President's house, intending to kidnap the President of an un-specified country. Unluckily for the terrorists and even more so for the other guests that did attend, the President decided to ditch the party at the last minute in favour of his on-screen soap-opera crush. Put in an understandably awkward situation, the terrorists `wing it' and decide to take everyone at the party hostage. For what seemed a very long time after this very little happens. I remember thinking `when are we actually going to find out why they've done this and what their demands are?' Yes, the terrorists interact with the hostages and there is one `incident' that if you were at all engaged with the novel so far, could elicit an emotional response but for me, it just didn't. For me there were just endless pages talking about lots of people in a house.

The next bit of action only materialises when the terrorists are convinced to let some of the hostages go by the only regular character that appears from outside the house - the Swiss Red-Cross representative, Messner. `Things are starting to look up', I thought. `We'll get some action now'! Not so. All of the women bar one are released, along with anyone that was ill. That's it. Action over and done within a couple of pages.

With no action whatsoever, the `story' can only concern the characters of and the interaction between the hostages and the terrorists. Who are, by the way, the least frightening terrorists you have ever met - right from the start. Some of them are only in their mid-teens, two of them are girls and the reader just knows from the offset that these people are not going to starting shooting the hostages. These 58 people live together in the Vice President's house for nearly 5 months with Messner visiting daily to bring provisions, and so the reader has plenty of time (oh my god, soooo much time) to see the hostage-terrorist dynamic change and develop. I am enough of a seasoned reader to see how the changes to this dynamic could appeal to readers. Unfortunately it just didn't do it for me. I just didn't really care and all I kept thinking was `Hmmm. Why aren't more of them reading and asking for books? How many books could I devour in 5 months?'

The other key strand to the narrative is the importance of music and more specifically, opera. The only woman hostage not released is Roxanne Coss - an American soprano who the terrorists keep as a bargaining chip (although thinking about it, she's never really used as one). Her music is key in bringing the characters together (hostages and terrorists alike) and her singing becomes a kind of universal language that overcomes the barriers between the Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French and Italian inmates. Key to the story is the character of Gen, a Japanese translator who interacts with everyone, on behalf of everyone and without whom there really wouldn't be a story at all. Lastly, there are of course a few love interests, or `lust' interests if you're being more accurate about it.

So am I an action junkie? If I'd been asked that question a month ago I'd definitely have said no; now I'm not so sure. I was undoubtedly craving something whilst reading this that I just wasn't getting, but was it just action? Or was it a certain credibility to the story that I just didn't get? I think I can say what I'm going to say without putting you all on spoiler alert, but the idea that all 57 hostages and terrorists alike, were on some level in love with Roxanne Coss by the end of the novel did nothing for me. Nor did the appearance of the next big male opera sensation well over three quarters of the way through the story. Similarly, I found it unbelievably lucky that they managed to find a perfect piano-playing accompanist amongst the gathering to assist Roxanne to practice, and despite him not speaking English, they manage to communicate perfectly.

The ending of the hostage situation was how I expected it to be, and was the only part of the novel that elicited any kind of emotional response in me. It wasn't a huge response, but there was a response there nevertheless so I guess I must have cared about a few of the characters on some level. The actual ending to the novel however, again, just wasn't credible on any level. I can't explain why without spoilers but honestly, really??? Ms Patchett's desire or need to tie up the novel nicely has seriously pushed the boundaries of credibility here.

But maybe I'm just feeling sore because I truly didn't experience this novel in the same way that thousands of others have. Perhaps it was just a case of `wrong book, wrong time'? Another reviewer described the books as `About finding beauty in unexpected places'. I really wish it had been like that for me. The longest 336 pages of my life, and it's such a shame because her third novel, `The Magician's Assistant' (for which she won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2002) sounds interesting... but can I bring myself to try another one?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a novel about a South American hostage crisis, 10 April 2012
By 
This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
If you're thinking about buying this book, because you're interested in South American politics/ society/ literature, or because you're expecting to read a gripping "John le Carré style" thriller, don't. I think you'll be disappointed. However, if you want to read a sensitive, almost philosophical, tale of friendship and love found in the most unlikeliest of places, then this book might be for you.

The premise is simple: half a dozen South American terrorists take a large number of wealthy businessmen, their wives and a famous opera singer hostage, while they attend a birthday party hosted in the Vice-Presidential palace in honor of opera buff and CEO Mr Hosokawa (in case this scenario sounds vaguely familiar to you, the author has admitted that the "Japanese embassy" hostage crisis in Peru in the late 1990s inspired her to write this book).
While, I agree with certain reviewers that some of the elements of the story are slightly unbelievable (I too have a hard time believing that absolutely all the men- with one notable exception- would fall in love with opera singer Roxanne Coss or that people would not get at least a little annoyed by her singing after months and months of being stuck in the same house with her), I would argue that this does not hurt the novel.

Patchett is very effective in getting you to empathize with her varied cast of characters (which in my opinion are very well drawn and developed and some of who you will not easily forget) and you will dread the inevitable ending, hoping against hope that the fragile society that hostages and terrorists have built might be "preserved" in some way and that things will turn out alright in the end.

One small criticism I would like to voice relates to the epilogue, which I found slightly "off key" and not strictly necessary, in my opinion.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing ending, 19 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
A great story with a disappointing ending, in fact for me the epilogue was a complete let down. Although I do appreciate it was a difficult story to write an ending for! Up until about the last ten pages or so it was a beautifully told story of the bonds that developed between the hostages and their terrorist kidnappers, despite the many differences in race, culture and language.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So good I read it twice!, 1 Jun. 2009
By 
A. Washington (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
Never before have I finished a book, turned back to the beginning and started again. In this extraordinary book Ann Patchett describes the nobler side of human nature in what ought to be terrible circumstances. A bungled kidnap turns into a long-term hostage situation. The hostages are men, all leaders in their field, and one exceptional woman, an opera singer, whose voice transcends the multitude of factors that should divide those confined together. Relationships develop between the hostages themselves and between the hostages and their captors, most of whom don't speak the same language. It is a rare book. It elevates humanity, showing how even those under enormous stress can show great courage and consideration for their fellow man. It made me laugh and cry - both times - and it has a great twist at the end! I'm sure I'll read it again.
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Bel Canto
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Paperback - 30 April 2002)
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