Monday, June 28, 2021

Bel Canto: Ann Patchett

I purchased this book at least 10 years ago, and I don't know why I waited so long to read it. All I knew about it when I started reading it was that terrorists take a large number of hostages in an international setting. And that it wasn't a thriller.

Summary from the back of the book:

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxane 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 takes the entire party hostage.


Mr. Hosokawa's one joy in life (other than his work) is listening to opera, and Roxane Coss is an opera singer that he greatly admires. The unnamed South American country wants to lure Mr. Hosokawa to build a plant there, to help their economy. They invite Miss Coss to sing for them at a birthday celebration for Mr. Hosokawa. He makes the trip, but only because Miss Coss will be performing; he has no intention of doing business in that country.

The president of the country backs out of attending the banquet, and the vice president has to take over that duty, which works well because the banquet is hosted in his home... a beautiful, large residence surrounded by lovely, well-cared for grounds. 

And then a group of insurgents enters the building after the concert. Their goal is to kidnap the president. When they find out that he is not there, they take residence in the building, with all the people attending as hostages. 

From the beginning, the reader knows that this cannot turn out well. Obviously the hostages fear for their lives. The story in some ways feels fantastical and unrealistic, but I was able to get involved in the story and care for members of both groups. 

The characterizations are very well done. There are many characters that we get to know well, both from the group of hostages and the insurgents. Over the time that the hostages are held captive, they form bonds. And eventually, they start to accept the situation and even dread returning to their former lives. 

Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane Coss are the main protagonists, along with Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's translator, who knows an amazing number of languages. One interesting aspect is that the hostages are from many countries and speak different languages. Gen spends most of his time translating for various hostages, the negotiator, and the soldiers.

But my favorite character is Ruben Iglesias, the Vice President who should not have been at the event.  After the hostage situation has settled down a bit, he manages things and continues to act like the host. He cleans up, he distributes the food that is sent in daily, and cooks when they are sent  ingredients for a meal. He even starts weeding the grounds when they are finally allowed outside. 

The writing is beautiful; the story is moving and it will stick with me for a long time. 

This was my fifth book read and reviewed for 20 Books of Summer.



-----------------------------

Publisher:  Perennial, 2002 (orig. publ. 2001)
Length:      318 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      South America
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

22 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I want to see the movie with Julianne Moore but it got pretty bad reviews so I am afraid it will ruin my memory of the novel.

Rick Robinson said...

Seems you enjoyed this one a lot, Tracy. It’s not a book or author I’m familiar with except name recognition.

It’s hot.

TracyK said...

Rick, I did enjoy the book. It does follow different points of view but I think it tells the story in a linear way. With maybe some deviations.

Sorry it is still so hot. I hope it starts getting better tomorrow.

TracyK said...

Patti, I had heard that the book was much better than the movie. And that there wasn't that much opera in the film, which seems strange. That might not bother me, but the music is a big focus in the book. I wanted to see it too, but I will wait a while.

Rick Robinson said...

Prediction for today is 94. That's better then yesterday's 114, but still hotter than I'd like. We may get down to mid-80s Friday...

TracyK said...

Rick, 94 is much better than 114, but I agree, still much too hot. Even in the mid-80s is too hot for me (especially with no air conditioning) but moving in the right direction.

I am glad to see the weather improving in Portland. That heat was scary.

Lark said...

I always meant to read this one, but never did. And then I forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder! :)

TracyK said...

This is a book worth reading, Lark. I hope you enjoy it, if you get to it.

Sam Sattler said...

Like you, I've had a copy of this one somewhere around the house for at least the last decade...not sure where it is at the moment, though...but still haven't read the thing despite all the high praise it has received. Now, I'm going to have to start looking for it while it's fresh on my mind again.

TracyK said...

Sam, I am glad I am not the only one. I hope to read more books by Patchett, given the time. I would like to start with The Dutch Uncle but I am sure the earlier books would also be good.

Cath said...

I've only read one book by Ann Patchett and that was State of Wonder. I was very impressed by it so will think about getting a copy of this one, possibly via the library.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'd heard that this was very good, Tracy, but hadn't yet read it. It certainly sounds compelling, and it's a scenario that I could see happening. I'm glad you were drawn in.

TracyK said...

Cath, thanks for letting me know that you liked State of Wonder. That one does sound interesting and I will include it in Patchett's books to follow up on. I want to read more of her books, but I think I have said that about all the authors I have read so far for 20 Books of Summer. Some of them I have books by already, but most I don't.

TracyK said...

Margot, it was an entertaining read, in many ways. We can't read everything, but I do recommend giving it a try.

Mary R. said...

I read this wonderful novel when it came out and it has stuck with me all these years. Glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

It is a memorable story, Mary, and I think it will be like that for me too.

col2910 said...

Tracy, sounds interesting, but I've too many books already. A reluctant pass from me!

Mary Adler said...

I loved Bel Canto. We read it for my book club and I recorded the music that was part of the book for the meeting. I know the book has been panned by some critics, but I was in it and loving it from the beginning. She made the characters alive for me. Thank you for the reminder. As I recall she had a specific opera singer in mind when she wrote it. Maybe Beverly Sills? I wish they could have made the movie, which I didn't see, with her.

TracyK said...

Col, having too many books is a cross we both bear. I am not familiar with other books by Patchett, but I am planning to try more of them... someday.

TracyK said...

Mary Adler, thanks for commenting. That sounds like a great book club meeting with music for accompaniment. I did see some negative reviews and I can understand the criticisms, but the book worked well for me. The situation provided tension along with a romantic and moving story.

CLM said...

So glad you enjoyed this, Tracy. I think it is her best book (she is very congenial, as you may have read, and owns a bookstore in TN). I had forgotten there was a movie. You captured the paradox of the book - that the situation is unbelievable (although maybe more believable now than when it was written) but it becomes somewhat normal to the reader and the characters. It is funny but I had forgotten the Vice President although remembered the others well.

I may have told you this story but when my grandmother was in Assisted Living there was a very nice book club run by a very preppy former teacher. My other and I would see notices posted and beg my grandmother, a big reader, to join. She always turned up her nose at the books they chose, sight unseen. When they chose Bel Canto, we thought that was the turning point because my grandfather was an opera critic and the whole family were opera fans. We got Granny a copy of the book and she absolutely loved it. "Great," said my mother unwisely, "the discussion of the book is tomorrow." And my grandmother looked at her and said, "It would spoil a lovely book like this to discuss it with the inmates." I can only imagine what she would think of our blogs!

TracyK said...

Constance, I did enjoy the book a lot and it has made me curious about her other books.

That is a very funny story about your grandmother. Thanks for sharing that. Everybody is different about what they want to discuss with others, but I would love the opportunity of a book club onsite if I were in that situation.