Bel Canto Paperback – 1 Aug 2005
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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, Amazon.com --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.’
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF BOOKS
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Top Customer Reviews
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?
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!
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The volume was described as 'good' ,but was poor in my opinion. Had been on a bookshelf for years so browned pages and had user's name inscribed. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Sheila van Moyland
This is all about a group of people being held captive against their will, and deprived of their normal requisites . Read morePublished 1 month ago by Roger Risborough
I found this novel sadly disappointing. Despite the tension-laden situation, it failed to grip. The rather verbose style seems at odds with the need to ratchet up the suspense. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Bluecashmere.
An intriguing start to this novel but let down by colonial, out of date stereotypes and a shameful epilogue.Published 6 months ago by Mrs Susan R Whittle
Bel Canto is a beautifully written book I have read several times and I have purchased copies for friends and family. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Jill
No, it was the wrong edition ~ had to order it again. First copy went into the charity shop box. My fault.Published 12 months ago by Treld Pelkey Bicknell