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Somewhere in South America, at the home of the countrys vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, operas most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

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@Bel Canto@ may be one of the top ten books Ive read this year. It is absolutely beautifully written and very gripping. I really felt like I was there and that I was getting to know the characters as they got to know each other. I felt like one of them. Without giving anything away, I was totally surprised and shocked by the ending. However, in retrospect, I realized that it really couldnt have ended any other way. I recommend @Bel Canto@ for everyone.

Added August 28, 2009:

I was listening to the radio today. The local talk show hosts were interviewing a man who deprograms cult members. (This was in regards to the Jaycee Dugard case.) He was talking a bit about the Stockholm Syndrome. It suddenly struck me that Ann Patchett managed something quite extraordinary with this book. She made the reader experience the Stockhold Syndrome. We go right along with the hostages in identifying with the terrorists that are holding them hostage. How very sneaky of her.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
I am so upset. But not for the reasons one might expect. The fact that it was not a happy ending was expected. On the contrary, most authors would have made a happy ending out of this story, and I applaud Ann Patchett for not taking the easy way out- however much I wanted it for all the characters I became attached to. Which she did was not necessarily worse, but definitely as bad. It was not only sudden, but seemingly random. Almost as if she was rushed to meet a deadline. Almost exactly in the middle of page 310/318, Roxane Coss screams. Because the hostage situation is finally over.

In an unknown country, in the home of the Vice President, a birthday party is held for Katsumi Hosokawa, the visiting chairman of a large Japanese company and opera enthusiast. To get Hosokawa to invest in the country, famous soprano Roxane Coss is scheduled to perform as the highlight of the party. Near the end, a @,very reasonable@ band of terrorists emerge, turning into a hostage situation when they realize the President is not present, as expected. (He elected, instead, to watch his soap opera, changing his mind at the last minute. After some negotiations, bring reasonable terrorists, there are thirty nine hostages kept, the rest released. Among the remaining hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator 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.

Yes, I said months. Over four months total. And everyone is friendly and no one is shot and there are a few love affairs. Believable? Not really.

I actually was not glad to find out this was based on a true story. Somehow, it seemed, disrespectful, for lack of a better word. It was based on the 1996-1997 Lima Crisis in Peru. Yes, the unnamed country was Peru. Which was ridiculous, how far Patchett went to avoid naming the country, using all sorts of pronouns. She should have simply made one up if she was not at liberty to use @Peru@, instead of making it a distracting @secret@. Alas, how true to life was it? Definitely based on a true story, not a true story. Stretching the definition on that, even.


Alas, this is my third Ann Patchett novel, and, as always, her stories are character based. This is what she does best, and does her best yet (as far as the ones I have read) in @Bel Canto@. I did fall in love with many if not all of the characters. (There were a few more characters than I would have liked to keep track of throughout).

The omniscient third person point of view really catered to this book well, floating from room to room, character to character. That being said, supposedly this categorized @Bel Canto@ as magical realism? I suppose that is one way to define the genre, but not mine. Magical Realism is incorporating fantastical or magical elements into an otherwise rational world, and this was more making a true life event unbelievable with overt scenarios. Not even merely sugarcoating, but making things up. The terrorists playing soccer with the hostages? Falling in love with each other, rendezvous at two in the morning in the kitchen cabinet?

Alas, here are my reasons, why Patchetts beautiful use of language, coupled with her insightfulness and my consequential love for the characters she creates ultimately outweighed the idealizing and romanticizing.
@Their eyes clouded over with tears for so many reasons it would be impossible to list them all. They cried they cried for the beauty of the music, but also for the failure of their plans. They were thinking of the last time they had her sing and longed for the women who had been beside them then. All of the love and the longing a body can contain was spun into not more than two and a half minutes, and when she came to the highest note it seems that all they had been given in their life and all they have them came together and made a weight that was almost impossible to bear.@
@All of the orchestra supports her now, it reaches with the voices, lifts the voices up, the beautiful voice of Roxane Cossis singing her Gilda to the young Katsumi Hosokawa. Her voice vibrating the tiny bones deep inside his ear. Her voice stays inside him, becomes him. She is singing her part to him, and to a thousand other people. He is anonymous, equal, loved.”
Lyrically said; this is what amazing art can do to us.

@It was odd the way they never spoke but always seemed to be in communication.@
Reference to the love between Hokosawa and Roxanne. Yes, love can transcend language.

@We make exceptions in extraordinary times.@
At its heart, this is what @Bel Canto@ is about. How we all might find out audacious, glorious, magnificent, impossible things about ourselves and each other if only given the opportunity. If only given the chance, we might do things we never thought possible. Of course, in this rendition, they are all for the positive.

My thoughts on the characters.

**** Spoilers ****


Generals Alfredo, Ben, Hector. Ben is the main guy, he has a family, is very @reasonable, is proud of his terrorists, expresses regret for recruiting some of the girls. Plays chess with Hosokawa.

Recruits Beatriz, Carmen, Cesar, Ishmael. Beatriz is addicted to the Maria Soap Opera, Hosokawa gives her a watch even so she knows when it starts (one in the afternoon). Yes, the same soap opera the President neglected attendance for. She also tires confession for the first time there, a sort of coming of age. Carmen, I adored her. Vivacious young girl, torn between her duties and what she sees as noble efforts and her love for Gen. Was very good at being invisible, guided Hosokawa in his rendezvous, to get him upstairs to get room. Cesar is an unborn until now amazing Soprano, becomes a prodigy to Roxanne when he sings out loud for the first time the night after Roxane and Hosokawas first time together, she being asleep when she typically does her daily practicing. Ishmael impressed everyone by learning chess by watching. He is small for his age, thus impressing even more in his hard work, always more than the others. If offered to live with Vice President Ruben and work for Oscar Mendoza after this is @all over@. He dares to believe.

Oscar Mendoza is great friends with Ruven, often worries about his family, fearing his wife unknowingly allowing young boys to take advantage of his daughters (the way he did her when they were younger), to the point of dreaming murdering them. He is an example of an interesting character.

Simon Thibault is the French who cried himself to sleep, caressing his wife Ediths scarf, having reestablished his love for her during the hostage situation, realizing how much he loves her, before she is released.

Victor Fyordorv proclaims his love to Roxane Costs with a cute, sentimental story about how his grandmother, above all, treasured a book of impressionist paintings, used gloves to turn the pages, only took it out sometimes, teaching him to appreciate art (thus Roxane and thus gives him some @permission@ to love her).

Vice President Ruben Iglesias. Thus is his place. Throughout the four plus months, he continues to serve as host, realizing how pampered he is, learns to truly appreciate Esmeralda, his maid who actually is the one to stitch a wounds inflicted during the situation, before she is released. He misses his children, his wife, wants to adopt Ishmael.

Messner seems to want to be on both sides, obviously unsuccessful in negotiating anything.

Father Arguedas holding confession with two chairs pulled aside, an arrangement everyone, terrorists and hostage alike, respect. He is the one hostage that volunteers to stay, not once, but twice.

Tetsuya Kato is the pianist, replacing Christoph, when he dies of a diabetic insulin insufficiency. He used to be a secret pianist, but was the only one there when Roxane needed a pianist. Turns out he is a maestro, had him wondering what he will do when real life returns.

First love affair. Roxane Coss, the great. Did not really like her, although Hosokawa send to make her a better person and more humbled. Christoph had shared his love for her on the plane, she had shunned him, she feels regret. Hosokawa discovers happiness for the first run. Probably the most changed character. His love for Roxane change him, shows him works and things he never imagined possible. Family and his wife were arranged, he used to see it as an obligation, time was everything. Now, in this works where tune had been suspended, he never wants to leave this was woman that does not even share his language.

Second love, which I savored so much more. Carmen the beautiful young terrorist and Gen the translator. How they shyly like at each other and how that became her asking him to teach her Spanish to studying in the kitchen cabinet to get taking him outside onto the grass under the moonlight to make love to the promise of studying English and Spanish for two hours before making love but being unable to keep that promise. Young love (in their twenties). Not only young love, but audacious, unimaginable, compelling disremembering love.

Now, the ending? Everyone dies except for Father Arguedas, Simon Thibaut, Vice President Ruben Iglesias, Gen, and Roxane? So why not wed Gen and Roxane?

So it occurred in real life. Well, it did not fit this story, in which Carmen and Gen made such a lovely story. The same goes for Hosokawa and Roxane. Totally made their stories, the entire novel, disingenuousness.

A generous four stars, although this is only by practicing my own disremembering in regards to the ending.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
I have no words to express my thoughts on BEL CANTO, but Pat Conroy on pages 173 and 174 of the large print edition of A LOWCOUNTRY HEART:REFLECTIONS ON A WRITING LIFE beautifully reflects my feelings with the following words.

@But for me, Ann Patchett went to the top of the class when she published Bel Canto, a book that knocked my socks off...Ann Patchett did that wondrous, walking-on-water kind of thing- she created a whole world that contained grand opera, the revolutionary spirit always alive and close to the surface in Latin America, a siege, a story of Shakespearean grandeur, unbearable tension that built up with the turning of every page, a savage denouement, love stories haunted by the approach of death...I had literature all over my hands and face when I finished that book. I thought then and I think now its one of the best novels I ever read or ever hope to read in my life. High praise? Yes, but joyfully given.@
- Pat Conroy

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This is a weird and beautiful book about machine guns, chopping onions, and opera singers. Check your disbelief at the door and enjoy the language. I dont care for the ending -- but it was worth it anyway. Lovely writing.

***wondering why all my reviews are five stars? Because Im only reviewing my favorite books -- not every book I read. Consider a novels presence on my Goodreads bookshelf as a hearty endorsement. I cant believe I just said @hearty.@ It sounds like a stew.****

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Books are so subjective. No matter how much we know this, it’s still shocking to love a book and see that others hated it, or to hate a book that others loved. It’s the same for everything else in life: people, films, TV shows, vacation spots, singers, etc. etc. We are all so very different.

Sometimes, when I finish a book, if I didn’t like it, I will usually have very concrete reasons why I did not. And sometimes I will have very concrete reasons why I did like a book. But often, as is the case with BEL CANTO, it’s simply because the book touched me in a way that I personally can appreciate.

Ann Patchett writes a beautiful story of a lavish birthday party in a small South American country gone wrong. A group of gun-wielding terrorists interrupt a party for a Japanese businessman (at the residence of the Vice President), hoping to take the president hostage and be on their way. But the President is home watching his favorite soap opera, and is nowhere to be found. The terrorists make a quick decision to take the multi-national group of party guests hostage, most notably opera star, Roxane Coss, the party honoree, Mr. Hosokawa, his translator, Gen, the country’s Vice President, a local priest, and many others.

I like character-based stories, especially when they are exceptionally well written. I enjoyed seeing how the hostages and the terrorists interacted over a period of months, especially with music as the central theme. I found it quite interesting to watch how relationships developed and blossomed between members of the eclectic group of people who found themselves living together in the vice presidential residence.

This is my kind of book as I’m a true people watcher. I can appreciate why it might not be for everyone, especially those preferring more action than interaction, but for me it was a beautiful story with some very tense, poignant and engaging moments.

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