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Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett X
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 336 pages

    Jun 2002, 336 pages


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There are currently 32 reader reviews for Bel Canto
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Sally Gunn

As a soprano who has sung some of the pieces with which Roxane Coss mesmerized her unlikely audience, I was thrilled to think again the truth that something beautiful can be transforming - if only for a brief time. I see and hear news accounts on any day of such hostage takeovers, and Patty Hearst's story resonated with me from its beginning, but somehow this novel puts me more deeply into the world of unreconcilable differences: this fiction tells more truth than the news. Each character was so believeable, with one exception: Kato. For a person to have had that kind of artistry and capability, never having lived in the music world, is for me a more than remote possibility. But the obseration that "...the people in the living room of the vice-presidential mansion listened to Kato with hunger and nothing in their lives had ever fed them so well...". gives a new hope to me that there is another way for me to nourish others. What if each of us could have yearly R&R in a place or situation which removes time from the equation?

This book was enthralling, and our book group found a great deal of topics to discuss. Patchett's writing is eloquent and easy to read. Although unbelievable at times, the book cleverly winds around the minds of the individual hostages and their captors giving us a taste of what it might be like to be a hostage for the long haul. I am a musician, and the author clearly did her research on the musical aspect as she beautifully wove it through the story. This book was chock full of fascinating and intricate characters. The action takes a lull about three quarters of the way through, but the desire to find out what happens to the hostages and the almost likable captors will keep you reading on. It has a quirky surprise ending that is very debatable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this lyrical and wonderfully written novel. The theme of music is transmitted through the content and the form of Patchett's prose. The characters were well-developed, surprisingly so considering their number. Of course, a certain suspension of disbelief must be maintained when considering the plot, but (here's the music theme again) just act like you're at the opera (no one goes around singing their life story, right?). In the interview with the author, she describes this book as "operatic fiction" (not completely realistic). I think if you keep that in mind while reading you will be able to enjoy this novel as much as I did!
Jody Chapel

I've only just finished this book and perhaps I should give some time and reflection before commenting on it, but no. I thought the book was beautifully written. Even scenes that held very little artistic importance such as the one when Gen is looking for someone to cook dinner and he says "This is your man" upon Simon's enthusiasm to make dinner. I don't know why, but that scene stopped me as so simple and beautiful after the complicated, uncomfortable and funny conversation about Roxanne helping with dinner.

Even though I know nothing of the Lima incident that inspired this book, I think you have to suspend your disbelief a bit about the whole hostage situation. I think in reality others might have gone off the deep end in the confinement, no matter how changed they were becoming. But this is a story and a rich one at that, and I can easily forget about what might happen or not. Though I have to say that I have read this only a week after the Theatre in Russia was taken over, and so many died, that it gives the story a deeper sadness an yet perhaps takes it even a bit more from reality for me.

I gave this book a 4 only because I never know when I will find a 5.


no action!
This book was slow moving, not enough going on...the character development was great but not for the entire book

As I read this novel, I kept searching for the larger meaning. The style seemed to hearken to "magical realism", yet I continued to long for more ties to reality, however magical. The hostages were too broadly drawn, too nice, way too "reasonable". Cultural and individual differences, punctuated at the beginning, disintegrated at the end(I had a hard time paying attention after everyone fell in love). I also felt that the European was valued over the indigenous, i.e., Cesar and Ishmael more valued as they became proficient at chess and opera singing(another difficult-to-believe plot development:nobody in this novel is ever merely "reasonably talented"-they are all superlatives!). The stereotypes too broad despite elaborate efforts at character development. At the end of the novel, we don't even find out what happened in the imaginary South American country, whose political situation I wanted elucidated more clearly. I liked the prose style, but I never did succeed in understanding the author's intentions. There was a parrallel between Roxanne and Gen, suspending chaos through interpreting and music respectively, reconciling differences, positing meaning. The interpreting, and especially the music, unify the multilingual and multicultural assemblage. We all long for such an outcome in this world. Yet I kept remembering a true Holocaust narrative in which a brilliant violinist is killed, despite his genius. Unfortunately reality is more grim than this novel, and people who live by terror are not transported by music, and do not suspend their irrationality. This novel was just too fantastical for me.

Even thou the premise of the book is predictable and some what under developed, the charcter interaction and communication is enjoyable. The author has the ability, albeit for a short period of the book, to make forget that the hostage situation goes for over a month, with the reader feeling some empathy for the characters and sometimes smiling with them as well. But generally the book trades on sentimentality with no substance.

I agree that the picture of radical terrorists being won over by one woman singing a song from an opera (weeping, forgetting their mission, falling in love with her) is almost offensive. The political cause of the terrorists certainly is insipidly painted by Patchett - their committment to it is almost non-existent. Of course, we should remember that when Patchett was writing this, it was pre-9/11 and the idea of terrorists might have a more threatening quality now. What is shocking is how close to the actual events Patchett kept the story line - the hostage-taking, the long period of "negotiating" for a release, the involvement of a less radical group of Peruvian terrorists than some political groups there, the sympathy of the hostages for their captors, the participation in the terrorist group of two teenage girls, and the final outcome (at least, before Patchett chose to add that incongruous epilogue...Why do Americans continue to require such reassurances?) Patchett herself said that this book was "operatic fiction" - meaning, she did not try to make it entirely realsitic, she heightened certain elements into melodrama. But I thought it was a little saccharine. And the idea that only one person could speak English in a group of well-educated international businessmen and diplomats is just silly. You can't get out of high school in most countrys now without having taken a few years of English language instruction. You wouldn't get a good job in today's globalized business world without being fluent in it. Still, the book generated a good conversation among our book group members.

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