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Bel Canto (P.S.) by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto (P.S.) (original 2001; edition 2008)

by Ann Patchett

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10,240352281 (3.95)1 / 760
Title:Bel Canto (P.S.)
Authors:Ann Patchett
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2008), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:women singers, terrorism, embassy, South America, hostages, psychological fiction, love stories, opera

Work details

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001)

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English (344)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Korean (1)  All (352)
Showing 1-5 of 344 (next | show all)
This beautifully-written book deserves the many accolades it has received. The setting is the home of the vice president of an impoverished South American country. The occasion is a lavish dinner party for a powerful Japanese businessman with entertainment provided by renown opera singer, Roxanne Coss. Those attending are prestigious men and their wives from different countries all speaking different languages. The party comes to an abrupt end when armed terrorists take everyone hostage. The only means of communication among these people is the Japanese translator, Gen. All of the women are released except for Roxanne Coss. Their captivity continues since negotiations are at a standstill, and life on the "outside" resumes. The relationship among the captors and the captives slowly is transformed into a routine that involves understanding and appreciation of each other, thanks in great part to Gen's ability to enable communication and to the feelings engendered by listening to Roxanne's amazing singing voice. This is a remarkable testament to the resilience and generosity of the human spirit. ( )
  pdebolt | Jan 18, 2017 |
That was quite beautiful. ( )
  Virginia-A | Dec 21, 2016 |
A lovely book. We read it for book club, but that was quite a while ago. I think I need to reread it. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
Set in an unnamed South American country the novel opens up to a birthday party that is being held for Mr. Hosokawa the head of a company in Japan that the leaders of the country hope to have them build a plant there. To lure him in they have paid Roxane Coss, the famed soprano opera singer a lot of money to sing for the night, as Mr. Hosokawa is a huge opera fan. And it works in that it has lured him to come, even if he has no intentions of building a plant there. The event is held at the Vice President's house and various important people such as diplomats and foreign industry men who are interested in investing themselves if this deal goes through.

After Roxane Coss sings her last song the lights in the house go out, but no one suspects a thing as this is usual at the opera. But it isn't long before they realize that something is wrong when older men and a lot of very young men, almost boys, with guns burst into the room via the air conditioning shafts. They demand to see the President, who skipped the program in order to watch his favorite soap opera about a poor woman named Maria who gets into all kinds of scrapes and is right now trying to escape her kidnappers. The Vice President, Ruben Iglesias, is cold cocked by a rifle and his face is cut open really bad, but his life is spared by being honest about where the president is.

The three ring leaders are General Hector, General Alfredo, and General Benjamin. Of the three, Benjamin is the most rational. He has shingles across his face that as time and the stress of the situation go on stretch farther and farther across his face. A poor guy who works for the Red Cross and is there on vacation, Messner, a Swiss, volunteers his services and appears at the door to act as mediator and to see to any needs the hostages might have. He convinces the Generals to let the women and those with bad health to go free as a sign of good faith and in return they are given food. The French Diplomat, Thibault and his wife had just rediscovered each other when he took this post in this country find themselves now separated with his fate undetermined. The Monsignor Rolland who hopes to become a Bishop soon leaves with the women while a new and lowly priest, Father Arguedas stays behind. The Generals will not let Roxane Coss go as she is worth a lot of money and capital to someone and they have come to realize that they are not going to get the President after all so they are determined to try to get what they can with who they've got. They want certain prisoners freed, starting with General Benjamin's brother. However, Coss's piano accompanist dies because he refuses to leave her side even though he is a diabetic and he needed the insulin to stay alive. So this does not reflect well on the rebels.

Mr. Hosokawa has an interpreter named Gen Watanabe who knows many languages and is soon being employed by the Generals to help Messner with his bad Spanish and later with the other hostages and to help Mr. Hosokawa and Roxana Coss communicate with each other as they are slowly falling in love. Mr. Hosokawa is a married man, but it was never a passionate loving marriage. It was more like a box he need to check off. One of the men from his company who came for the party plays piano and a friend of the priest's has sheet music that is brought in by Messner and soon music and songs are being heard throughout the house.

Ruben has turned into a housekeeper of his house. He goes around cleaning up and looking after his guests. When the food starts to arrive uncooked, Thibault and Gen and some of the guards who have the knives take to cooking the meals. As a matter of fact the hostages and the guards start to become friendly which each. It's like a Stockholm Syndrome on both sides. They are living in some kind of false paradise that you know is not going to last as Messner keeps telling them to surrender before it too late, but no one listens. The priest knows what is going on is doomed and that there is no future like they are dreaming of, but they will have to find out for themselves.

This book shows how the power of music can affect people and create connections even among people who do not share a common language. Lots of people have no idea what the exact words mean that are being sung in an opera, but the music and the voices tell you what is being said. When I read this book I thought it would make a great opera. It turns out it has been made into an opera by Renee Fleming who was the inspiration for Roxane Coss. Ms. Patchett, by the way, based her book very loosely on the hostage situation in Peru in 1996. A Bel Canto is Italian for beautiful song or beautiful singing which this book seems to be about.

He believed that life, true life, was something that was stored in music. Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 5)
He did not have to give up his love. In fact, after that he changed his mind completely and decided that such beauty would have to be one with God. The music gave praise, he was sure of that, and if the words too often focused on the sins of man, well, did Jesus himself not explore this subject exactly? When he suffered from any feelings of questionable discomfort, he simply rectified the situation by not reading the libretti. He had studied Latin in seminary, but he refused to make the connection to Italian. Tchaikovsky was especially good in these cases, as Russian escaped him completely. Sadly, there were times when the lust came through the music rather than the words. Having no understanding of French did not keep a priest safe from Carmen. Carmen gave him dreams. In most instances, though, he was able to pretend that every man and woman in every opera sang with so much grace and splendor because they sang about the love of God in their hearts. - Ann Pattchett (Bell Canto p 53)
There were worse reasons to keep a person hostage. You keep someone hostage for what he or she is worth to you, for what you can trade her for, money or freedom or somebody else you want more. Any person can be a kind of trading chip when you find a way to hold her. So to hold someone for a song, because the thing you longed for was the sound of her voice, wasn't it all the same? The terrorists, having no chance to get what they came for, decided to take something else instead, something that they never in their lives knew that they wanted until they crouched in the low, dark shaft of the air-conditioning vents: opera.--Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 71)
A daughter was a battle between fathers and boys in which the fathers fought valiantly and always lost. He knew that one by one each of his daughters would be lost, either honorably in the ceremony of marriage or, realistically, in a car pointed out towards the ocean after dark. -Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 121)
Gen, in his genius for languages, was often at a loss for what to say when left with only his own words.--Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 145)
Sleep was a country for which he could not obtain a visa.-Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 210)
It's easier to love a woman when you can't understand a word she's saying.-Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 223)
"People love each other for all sorts of different reasons", Roxane said..."Most of the time we're loved for what we can do rather than for who we are. It's not such a bad thing, being loved for what you can do." "But the other is better, " Gen said. "Better. I hate to say better, but it is. If someone loves you for what you can do it's flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them."-Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 224)
There was an incredible logic to kissing, such a metal-to-magnet pull between two people that it was a wonder that they found the strength to prevent themselves for succumbing every second. Rightfully, the world should be a whirlpool of kissing into which we sank and never found the strength to rise up again. --Ann Patchett (Bel Canto p 250) ( )
1 vote nicolewbrown | Dec 12, 2016 |
To call this a love story or romance just doesn't feel quite right. How about an incredibly poignant story of human potentials, both realized and extinguished. If someone hasn't turned it into a contemporary opera yet, they definitely should. ( )
  dele2451 | Dec 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 344 (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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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
For Karl VanDevender
First words
When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

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

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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

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