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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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Bel Canto (2001)

by Ann Patchett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,926382259 (3.94)1 / 823
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    atimco: In both books, music is a character in its own right, set against a backdrop of human violence and tragedy.
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    the_awesome_opossum: Both novels are about human connections formed in the face of unusual crises. Very competent and well-written, both books had much the same vibe about them
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English (374)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Korean (1)  All (382)
Showing 1-5 of 374 (next | show all)
“‘Who knew that being kidnapped was so much like attending university?’ Gen said.” — Ann Patchett, “Bel Canto”

In Ann Patchett’s magical 2001 novel, a prolonged hostage situation in an unnamed Latin America country turns into an educational opportunity for both hostages and terrorists. A tiny ragtag liberation army composed mostly of teenagers, including two girls, crashes a birthday party for a prominent Japanese businessman, Katsumi Hosokawa, held at the vice president’s home. The featured guest is the celebrated American opera singer Roxane Coss, because Hosokawa loves opera. The terrorists had planned to kidnap the country’s president and trade him for the release of political prisoners, but the president has stayed home to watch his favorite soap opera. So Roxane becomes the big prize, along with all of the male party guests, who come from a variety of countries and speak a variety of languages.

The negotiations drag on for months, during which time the situation becomes not just the normal but the ideal. Roxane falls in love with Hosokawa, even though they cannot speak the same language. Gen, the translator and thus the most valuable person in the house, falls in love with Carmen, a pretty soldier whom he teaches to read and write. Another young soldier learns to play chess, while another, with Roxane’s instruction, learns to sing opera. The vice president, who has never done manual labor in his life, develops skills at both housekeeping and gardening. And so on.

As one of the generals says near the end of the novel, “It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”

Yet as prevalent as this education theme may be in the novel, it is not the dominant one. That has to do with service, grace, second chances and the power of music. The vice president becomes a humble servant after his servants are released. Gen, the translator everyone depends on, becomes everyone’s servant, as well. Beatriz, the other female soldier, confesses to a priest for the first time in her life, discovering the freedom in forgiveness.

Then there is Roxane. Again and again we find lines like these when she sings, something that becomes the highlight of everyone’s day: “God’s own voice poured from her,” “such a voice must come from God” and “she sang as if she was saving the life of every person in the room.”

If captivity can become a paradise, then rescue paradoxically becomes paradise lost. Patchett’s ending brings the harsh real world back and disappoints for that reason. Readers, like both the captors and the captives, much prefer the captivity of the book’s first nine chapters. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 11, 2018 |
Een absoluut verrassend vijfsterrenboek. Bijzonder knap hoe Ann Patchett het verhaal geloofwaardig opbouwt. Je weet dat het niet goed kan aflopen maar je gaat toch haast geloven in een happy end. Dat was de reden dat ik het haast niet durfde uit te lezen. Lang geleden dat voor mij de hoofdpersonen zo levensecht waren, ik zag vandaag zelfs Mr Hokosawa in de bibliotheek lopen. Heftig, romantisch en prachtig!
  elsmvst | Jul 3, 2018 |
Terrorism turns into a story of relationships with sympathetic characters on both sides. Outcome is sad but realistic. ( )
  FBGNewbies | Jun 20, 2018 |
The unexpected bonds that can grow between people is at the heart of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. Katsumi Hokosawa, a Japanese industrialist, is having his 53rd birthday party in an unnamed South American country. The country has invited him to this party, to be held at the Vice President's mansion, in the hopes that he will invest there. He has no intention of doing so and declines...until he finds out that they have secured the performance of Roxane Coss for the party. Hokosawa is an opera devotee, and Coss is the world's foremost soprano. So he and his translator, Gen Watanabe, make the trip. No sooner, though, has Coss finished her performance than all the lights go out. Suddenly, the partygoers find themselves surrounded by young men bearing arms. They've come to abduct the president, and when they find out he's not there, they're not quite sure what to do but take the 200 guests hostage.

The hostages are winnowed down over time to the 39 most important men, including the vice president, ambassadors, businessmen, and of course Hokosawa himself (along with his translator) and Roxane Coss. Days go by, then weeks. Gen the translator finds himself very busy indeed as the guests and the soldiers get to know each other inside the mansion. Relationships of all kinds form: one of ringleaders and Hokosawa become chess partners and teach one of the young soldiers, another soldier with a beautiful voice becomes Roxane's student, romantic entanglements form (it turns out not all those soldiers are boys, after all). Always the question looms: how will this all end?

This is the first time I've read Patchett, and she's a gifted writer: her prose is sensitive, deeply felt, lyrical. She has a strong sense of character, and besides the ending, no action the people she creates on the page (and she creates people, complete with their own emotional truth, rather than just "characters") feels false. Even the people she spends less time with feel complete and real. The novel is well-paced and plotted...after the initial high drama of the home invasion, little else happens in terms of events and the action unfolds naturally from the unveiling of personalities and the growing bonds between the people at hand.

What keeps this as a very good book rather than great one, for me, is the very end. The action that two people take is...jarring. Trying to contextualize it in terms of what those two have gone through, you can understand that a rash decision might be made, but it still feels off. And it bugged me a lot, because I'd so loved everything that came before and to close on that sour note didn't feel right. It's 98% of a great book, but it could have been 100% of one and that is frustrating. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
This is worth reading solely for its presentation of how passionate people can be about music and opera. The Stockholm aspects are decently done but not as interesting, at least to me. The first pages tho are memorable. ( )
  abycats | May 11, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 374 (next | show all)
''Bel Canto'' often shows Patchett doing what she does best -- offering fine insights into the various ways in which human connections can be forged, whatever pressures the world may place upon them.
 
Although this novel is entirely housebound, at the vice presidential mansion, Ms. Patchett works wonders to avoid any sense of claustrophobia and keeps the place fresh at every turn.
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patchett, Annprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bonis, OristelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Euthymiou, MaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Figueira, Maria do CarmoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hrubý, JiříTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaluđerović, MajaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lauer, KarenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Løken, Silje BeiteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leistra, AukeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mastrangello, StellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, Kirsten A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preminger, SharonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pugliese, LucianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schapel, EvelinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sporrong, DorotheeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stabej, JožeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wanatphong, Čhittrāphō̜nTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolnicka, AleksandraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Xie, YaolingTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yamamoto, YayoiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Fonti e colline chiesi agli Dei;
m 'udiro alfine,
pago io vovro,
ne mai quel fonte co 'desir miei,
ne mai quel monte trapassero


"I asked the Gods for hills and springs;
They listened to me at last.
I shall live contented.
And I shall never desire to go beyond that spring,
nor shall I desire to cross that mountain."

-- Sei Ariette I: Malinconia, ninfa gentil,
Vincenzo Bellini
Sprecher: Ihr Fremdlinge! was sucht oder fordert ihn von uns?
Tamino: Freundschaft und Liebe.
Sprecher: Bist du bereit, es mit deinem Leben zu erkämpfen?
Tamino: Ja.


Speaker: Stranger, what do you seek or ask from us?
Tamino: Friendship and love.
Speaker: And are you prepared even if it costs you your life?
Tamino: I am.

-- The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Dedication
For Karl VanDevender
First words
When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.
Quotations
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Haiku summary
Translator, a star
In hostage situation
Love and friendships thrive
(julienne_preacher)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060838728, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:21 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots.Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.… (more)

» see all 10 descriptions

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