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Bel Canto (Advanced Reader's Edition)

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Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman. A famous American opera diva entertains the international guests. It is a night out of a fairytale - until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostag Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman. A famous American opera diva entertains the international guests. It is a night out of a fairytale - 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 turns into something quite different - as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds...people from different countries and continents become compatriots...and passionate, ill-fated love blooms upon this unlikely soil. Ann Patchet is the author of three previous novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Taft, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; and The Magician's Assistant. She has written for many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Village Voice, GQ, Paris Review, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennesse.


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Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman. A famous American opera diva entertains the international guests. It is a night out of a fairytale - until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostag Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman. A famous American opera diva entertains the international guests. It is a night out of a fairytale - 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 turns into something quite different - as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds...people from different countries and continents become compatriots...and passionate, ill-fated love blooms upon this unlikely soil. Ann Patchet is the author of three previous novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Taft, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; and The Magician's Assistant. She has written for many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Village Voice, GQ, Paris Review, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennesse.

30 review for Bel Canto (Advanced Reader's Edition)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    This book came highly recommended, and once I started reading, I kept thinking I had already but couldn't, for the life of me, remember how it ended. Turns out, it only seemed familiar to me because it is based on a real life experience. In 1995, the president of Peru and many of his guests were taken hostage and held for months. Bel Canto is a fictitious story based loosely on those events. I only liked Bel Canto. I understand its appeal - the coming together of hostages and terrorists alike, bu This book came highly recommended, and once I started reading, I kept thinking I had already but couldn't, for the life of me, remember how it ended. Turns out, it only seemed familiar to me because it is based on a real life experience. In 1995, the president of Peru and many of his guests were taken hostage and held for months. Bel Canto is a fictitious story based loosely on those events. I only liked Bel Canto. I understand its appeal - the coming together of hostages and terrorists alike, but the writing was a bit too ethereal and romantic for me. SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if it's the universal band-aid. I know a lot of people that don't enjoy opera at all. In fact, a music lover myself, I'd have to admit that most of opera is an acquired taste. The hugeness of the voice, the strong vibrato and foreign languages take some getting used to. However, according to the author, there is no politician, businessman, servant or gunman that doesn't fall into a deep state of hypnosis when a soprano begins her song. I tend to think that perhaps the terrorist from a South American country, where musical tastes are a bit different, might not have been so cast under her spell, but I could be wrong. I've never thought of it as the only offered solace to a terrifying situation. Which leads me to the other thing that I find a hard time believing. Terrorists...with guns....coming through air vents into a vice presidential palace and no one seems particularly petrified throughout it all. Again, I think this was the author's way of romanticizing the event by leaving out the crapping of pants and desperate pleas for loved ones, but everyone was annoyingly contrite and calm, even the terrorists themselves, who seemed awfully nice and understanding. The end was appropriately tragic. I read a few reviews that described this as an example of magical realism, a genre I try and avoid so this labeling surprised me. Maybe all the lack of fear, suspended time and happy hostage household was part of it. The ending, while sad and tragic, satisfied my need for logic and realism. This event seemed to have a larger psychological effect on the survivors then the original hostage takeover. Whether or not that is realistic or not, I have no idea. I wish she hadn't written her epilogue. It was unnecessary and unbelievable. Sort of like how all doctors on a hospital television show end up as couples, as if there were no one else in the world to date or socialize with. (view spoiler)[I did not believe or think that Gen and Roxane belonged together...even with their personal losses (hide spoiler)] . The book as a whole, however, is not void of greatness. The Russian cabinet member and his story of the box was poetic. Cesar's natural talent and love of performing made me cheer. And the inward look at most regarding their professions and priorities was very appropriate. All combined, it makes for an enjoyable, flawed book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Annalisa

    Let me preface this review by saying that I know this a disproportionately emotional review, but it's my review and my emotions and it is what it is. In 1996, the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru was taken hostage by guerillas during a party and held for 126 days until the home was raided by military force killing all the insurgents, many executed after they surrendered. At a time when Peru suffered an undercurrent of terrorist activity, president Fujimori was praised for his handling of t Let me preface this review by saying that I know this a disproportionately emotional review, but it's my review and my emotions and it is what it is. In 1996, the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru was taken hostage by guerillas during a party and held for 126 days until the home was raided by military force killing all the insurgents, many executed after they surrendered. At a time when Peru suffered an undercurrent of terrorist activity, president Fujimori was praised for his handling of the crisis and his approval rating soared. Since then, the commanders in the Peruvian army have been on trial for homicide but granted amnesty because they were praised as national heros. President Fujimori himself is in prison for human rights violations, not from this incidence, but still an interesting side note since those loss of rights are linked to his low tolerance for terrorist activity. A very interesting story that happened in Peru, a country with a name and a history more interesting than opera, but this I'm afraid was not that story. It upset me to realize that Patchett was using a piece of Peruvian history with no intention of telling a story of Peru or its political unrest or even including a proper description of the country. She only refers to "the host country" or "this godforsaken country" in a vague brush of one of those South American countries that aren't very important or distinct. Did she neglect to put Peru in the story because it defames the country or really is it that they just aren't interesting enough to her? I know I shouldn't be offended that she dedicated this whole book to an opera singer who wasn't even part of the crisis and even gave it an Italian name, but a little bit I am. Even the "about the book" section is dedicated all to loving opera without a mention to the actual crisis that inspired the events. There is a passage in the book about Roxane, the opera singer, singing a Czech piece and Gen, the translator, notes the distinction between knowing the words and speaking the language and only someone who spoke the language would see the lack of understanding. Maybe my reading this book was a little like that. I felt like I was reading two books simultaneously. The one about opera with vague, inaccurate concepts of an unnamed Peru where, if I had let Patchett guide my visual picture of the book I would have imagined the Von Trapp house stuck in the middle of the Amazon jungle. And the other of what I know about Peru and the crisis situation, trying to meld that visual to this story. I realize that this is a piece of fiction and Patchett has the artistic license to write a fictional description of the crisis anyway she wishes, but I didn't like the story she chose to tell. A hostage situation is intense, but even the takeover she stretches through wanderings of the love of opera and manages to dull it so that not even the hostages seem anything other than mildly putout. Maybe it's because I'm not a opera lover (there are opera pieces I enjoy, but as a whole it's not something I seek out), but I found it unbelievable that all these people (most of them men) would be so mesmerized by an opera singer and all of them fall in love with her and her music. I felt as though Patchett was using this story as a vehicle to force me to love opera and me on the other side of the pages resists for nothing more than the force of her request. It took me over 200 pages to get into this 300-page story and the only thing that eventually drew me in and saved it was the relationships between the hostages and their captors. In a normal setting I may not have believed it, but I did of the generally humble Peruvians, which is why the country should have been vital to the story. It took Patchett awhile to get there, but eventually I did like the characters. Even though I knew how it would end, I was anxious for the conclusion, to avoid inevitable tragedy. I could have done without the epilogue that was unnecessary and cheap. If Patchett wanted to include an epilogue, maybe she should have included one about the actual events. Or maybe it's all too appropriate that Peru was ignored. Okay, I'm done with my Peruvian inferiority complex over here. Feel free to talk about the actual story in your review or in the comments section. 1.5 stars, somewhere between a book prevented from being a great story and a book that upset me according to my own star ratings. I did find some merit in the book by the end, but it wasn't enough to overcome Patchett's inability to research her setting.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    Holy crap! This "One-Dayer" deserves applause & praise indeed as it will surely stay with you like some truly terrific (& best yet, catchy) song for days, for weeks to come. What happens when terrorists take over a party held in honor of a Japanese businessman at the house of the Vice President of some unknown South American city? A translator is thankfully employed, a Diva is made to sing like a modern Scheherazade. Renaissance flourishes as these individuals in the most insane of circum Holy crap! This "One-Dayer" deserves applause & praise indeed as it will surely stay with you like some truly terrific (& best yet, catchy) song for days, for weeks to come. What happens when terrorists take over a party held in honor of a Japanese businessman at the house of the Vice President of some unknown South American city? A translator is thankfully employed, a Diva is made to sing like a modern Scheherazade. Renaissance flourishes as these individuals in the most insane of circumstances come together to realize the true WORTH of people and the VALUE of themselves. This is what all those characters in Boccaccio did... ! (& anyone reaching the very heights reached by Boccaccio must MUST be extolled!) This Stockholm Syndrome is comical, sad, romantic. It's written with a less amount of elegance than the cover promises--but that is hardly ever a fault in this book, ripe & so ready to be inscribed into the canon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaidee

    1.5 "overwrought, stereotypical, ridiculous" stars !! 2015 Most Disappointing Read Award (tie) Of all the books on my reading list, "Bel Canto" was one that I was most looking forward to. You see after my faith and my loved ones the thing I most adore is Opera. Opera has been my passion, my solace, my escape and the most direct connection to my emotional life. I have found Opera beautiful, profound, wise and affirming. I was introduced to Opera at the age of 10 and since then there has not been 1.5 "overwrought, stereotypical, ridiculous" stars !! 2015 Most Disappointing Read Award (tie) Of all the books on my reading list, "Bel Canto" was one that I was most looking forward to. You see after my faith and my loved ones the thing I most adore is Opera. Opera has been my passion, my solace, my escape and the most direct connection to my emotional life. I have found Opera beautiful, profound, wise and affirming. I was introduced to Opera at the age of 10 and since then there has not been a day where I have not listened to it. I remember traveling through Colombian jungle (with some friends) at the age of twenty four and ran out of batteries for my discman. I was working through some obscure Russian opera at the time. My mood plummeted so severely that one of my friends took out her AA batteries from her mini-flashlight. (now that's a good friend)so that I could listen at night until we reached the next village. I read "The Patron Saint of Liars" by Patchett in 2013 and thought it was a very good book (3.5 stars) full of psychological insight and an understanding of what disconnection does to family relationships. I was expecting this book to be even better as it won awards, was a later novel and for God's sake was about Opera. From the get go I felt my heart sink and chapter after chapter I read in disbelief that this was the same book that others gave such accolades. The book rang so false to my ear. The melodrama and overly disgustingly sweet sentimentality was jarring, discomforting and infuriating. I somehow suspected that Ann Patchett had subcontracted a junior writer from Disney Animation and another burned out writer from Harlequin Romance to come together and churn this out while she joined their ideas and linked them with a very few gorgeous passages. The characters were absolute caricatures with extreme gender and ethnic stereotypes. The emotions and story line were completely illogical and the whole experience left me both angry and depleted. The only thing that will act as salve to cure my disappointment is to go and listen to Diana Damrau sing some heavy Richard Strauss songs with orchestra. Thank goodness for that. Addendum: My partner just noted that I rated Veronica Wants to Die by Paulo Coelho higher than this. This is getting scary.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Bel Canto, Ann Patchett Bel Canto is the fourth novel by American author Ann Patchett, published in 2001 by Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. It was also adapted into an opera in 2015. Based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (also called the Lima Crisis) of 1996–1997 in Lima, Peru, the novel follows the relationships among a group of young terrorists and their hostages, who are mostly high-profile executives and politicians, over several months. Many of the characters form u Bel Canto, Ann Patchett Bel Canto is the fourth novel by American author Ann Patchett, published in 2001 by Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. It was also adapted into an opera in 2015. Based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (also called the Lima Crisis) of 1996–1997 in Lima, Peru, the novel follows the relationships among a group of young terrorists and their hostages, who are mostly high-profile executives and politicians, over several months. Many of the characters form unbreakable bonds of friendship, while some fall in love. Set in an unspecified South American country, the story begins at a birthday party thrown at the country's vice presidential home in honor of Katsumi Hosokawa, the visiting chairman of a large Japanese company and opera enthusiast. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: دوم ماه ژانویه سال 2017 میلادی عنوان: بل کانتو؛ نویسنده: آن پچت؛ مترجم: محمد عباس آبادی؛ تهران، افراز، 1395؛ در 373 ص؛ شابک: 9786003261853؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 21 م جشن تولدی در خانه‌ ی معاون رئیس‌ جمهور یکی از کشورهای آمریکای لاتین برپاست. مهمان‌ها از سراسر دنیا آمده‌ اند، و در میان آن‌ها یک خواننده‌ ی سوپرانو؛ و میلیاردری ژاپنی حضور دارند. همه‌ چیز خوب پیش می‌رود، تا اینکه گروهی تروریست وارد خانه می‌شوند. هدف آن‌ها رئیس‌ جمهور است، امّا او در این جشن حضور ندارد. اکنون دیگر راه بازگشتی؛ نه برای مهمانان، و نه برای تروریست‌ها نیست. آنچه باقی می‌ماند کلنجار با موقعیتی مهیب، احساسات عاشقانه، و روابطی انسانی ست، که سیاست و اپرا و عشق را به هم گره می‌زند. ا. شربیانی

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    How did Patchett do this? A seemingly horrifying event turned into a mystical one. Where lines of good vs evil are blurred. Where time is suspended. It's a birthday party gala in South America. The guest of honour, a powerful Japanese figurehead, almost didn't make it himself except for the soprano whose voice he adores. As the final note is sung, the lights go out and the guerrillas enter. The party is hijacked for political reasons but what transpires during the next few months are the unusual How did Patchett do this? A seemingly horrifying event turned into a mystical one. Where lines of good vs evil are blurred. Where time is suspended. It's a birthday party gala in South America. The guest of honour, a powerful Japanese figurehead, almost didn't make it himself except for the soprano whose voice he adores. As the final note is sung, the lights go out and the guerrillas enter. The party is hijacked for political reasons but what transpires during the next few months are the unusual relationships that are forged by the beauty of a voice which unites both terrorists and hostages. Where for long moments during this siege, captivity is interrupted and they are a group of people witnessing a main attraction, living it day to day. Patchett is an artist. She details a portrait in which I bear witness. I searched arias and operas to get a sense of the beauty and passion this music can evoke. I'm in awe and for that I'm rating it a 4⭐️. I am smitten now with you, Patchett, but, I reserve the final star for the ending I wasn't as smitten with.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    How could a wanna-read-bad TBR turn into a sorry-ass DNF? WTF? DNF! OMG! WTF? Who AM I? I finish every book I start, yet I did not finish this one! And I LOVE Ann Patchett! Her State of Wonder is one of my all-time favorite books! What the fuck is going on? DNF! I’m having a serious crisis here. Have I thought this out carefully? Can I really pull off abandoning this book? I must do it. Calm down. It’s okay. Listen to your friends who whisper, “It’s fine….let go…” A zillion other books are beckoning. How could a wanna-read-bad TBR turn into a sorry-ass DNF? WTF? DNF! OMG! WTF? Who AM I? I finish every book I start, yet I did not finish this one! And I LOVE Ann Patchett! Her State of Wonder is one of my all-time favorite books! What the fuck is going on? DNF! I’m having a serious crisis here. Have I thought this out carefully? Can I really pull off abandoning this book? I must do it. Calm down. It’s okay. Listen to your friends who whisper, “It’s fine….let go…” A zillion other books are beckoning. Yes, life is too short to keep reading something you hate. If I repeat that last sentence enough times, I’ll start believing it, right? OMG! Oh my god, I did it! I DNF’d it, and I didn’t die! (A weird feeling still remains, however.) I’m so speechless about throwing this book out the window that I’ve resorted to acronyms to express myself, blurting out clumps of capital letters and exclamation points. Usually I rely on strong verbs and a chain of touchy adjectives, but here, no. I just have unpronounceable cap combos. Now that’s bad. Let’s start with the fact that yes, I’ve been dying to read this. The title, however, shooed me away for a long while; I hate opera and all its bel-canto-ness. Then a friend assured me that it wasn’t about opera, that it was about a terrorist attack with a bunch of hostages. So I ignored my title hatred and rubbed my hands in glee. Who doesn’t like a good hostage story, as long as it’s in the hands of a pro? And I knew Patchett’s a pro. I don’t know how she did it, but Patchett managed to make a terrorist attack boring. I didn’t get a sense of mad confusion or terror; it all seemed muted and sort of civilized. And eventually, many of the terrorists become nice guys. I know she wanted to show their humanity but she went overboard. And my biggest complaint is that she told us immediately who wins in the end. Completely ruined it for me! The fun is in wondering how it turns out. I don’t know what she was thinking, seriously. I don’t like opera, as I’ve said. Surely there would have been at least a few hostages and terrorists who didn’t like it either. But no, every single person seemed to be transported to la-la land when the little songbird opened her mouth. If it were me lying on the floor, surrounded by armed terrorists, I would be bemoaning not only my questionable fate, but also the fact that I was stuck in a room listening to non-stop eardrum-shattering high-pitched screeching. Just my luck, I’d be thinking. It would disrupt any calming thoughts I was working on, it would take away any chance I had of internal peace. I’d be begging the terrorists for ear plugs. The characters were lifeless and boring and I didn’t care an iota about any of them, much in the same way I don’t give a shit about cardboard. The only thing I liked was imagining a whole group of people lying face up and motionless on the floor, having conversations while looking at the ceiling. This unique scenario seemed trippy, and I loved thinking about horizontal chit-chat. Somehow Patchett managed to take the tense out of terrorism, no easy feat! It was pure torture to pick this book up, and I only made it halfway through. I wanted so much to love this book, and god knows I didn’t want to abandon it. I wanted the reality to be different. I didn’t want my love of Ann Patchett tainted. Because now whenever I think of the sweet State of Wonder, I’ll also think of the sour Bel Canto. Very sad. Of course Patchett is a skilled writer. The language is eloquent and there is some insight. But seriously, I just didn’t give a damn.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    This is one of my top five favorite books. Bel Canto made me a devoted Patchett fan, although her other work hasn't quite stood up to the high expectations this one set for her. Just to set the scene, I read this book while on a three week trip through Europe. Travelling by train, I had plenty of time to read, but missed a lot of the beautiful countryside (especially of France and Switzerland) because I simply couldn't tear myself away from this book, it was that good. My husband woke up on the This is one of my top five favorite books. Bel Canto made me a devoted Patchett fan, although her other work hasn't quite stood up to the high expectations this one set for her. Just to set the scene, I read this book while on a three week trip through Europe. Travelling by train, I had plenty of time to read, but missed a lot of the beautiful countryside (especially of France and Switzerland) because I simply couldn't tear myself away from this book, it was that good. My husband woke up on the train at one point (the ending of the book) to my sobs. I was so overcome I couldn't even tell him what was the matter (he was really worried for a minute there...then he thought I was crazy). I should clarify that I'm not an especially emotional person. I had just formed such a strong attachment to the characters in this book that the ending hit me almost as hard as losing a friend. Plus, it was just so beautifully done that the loss was almost bittersweet. This book gave me so much to think about that I wanted to grab someone--anyone!--who had read this book and talk it all out with them. Well, that was almost two years ago, so my furor has died down. I need to read it again to write a fair review. For the time being, though, first I loved the writing. I admire any author who can tell a great story with the words ushering me along rather than tripping me up. Another reviewer referred to the book as "lyrical" and I heartily agree. It was just beautifully done. Second, such richly imagined characters were a delight to spend time with. I thought each character was fully developed and interesting. Even the minor characters, about whom I received limited information, still felt real. And I got the sense that there was so much more to know about them lurking just below the surface. Finally, the story was heartbreakingly beautiful. As my waterworks attest, it was very moving, without feeling like my emotions were being made sport of. In the ending, it all just came together for me. "Bel Canto" referring to the beautiful song that was the idyllic life of the hostages and captives. But just like the opera singer's song had to end eventually, their peaceful suspension from reality could not endure. To me, what made the story and the illusion so poignant was the knowledge they had all along that it WOULD end. An audience can't fool itself into thinking a performance will last indefinitely, but perhaps the awareness of the end in sight makes the beauty of the moment all the more valuable. That reference made this story even more meaningful to me. I just loved it. I gave this book five stars, but it wasn't absolutely perfect. I actually strongly disliked the epilogue. I found it disheartening, somewhat contrived, and generally unecessary. The story would have been better off without it. In spite of that, this book is everything a great book should be. UPDATE: Reread in August 2009. I still loved it, and enjoyed the writing, but it wasn't the same experience it was the first time. I wasn't as impressed, as moved, or as eager to share this book with others as I was the first time around. It must have just been the way it hit me at that time in my life. Even without it being the earth-shatteringly awesome book I felt it was before, I still highly recommend it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    To me, this book is luminous. Glorious. Magnificent. Perfect. (Well, almost perfect. I'll explain in a moment.) I first read "Bel Canto" in 2005, and I was so absorbed in the story that I would sneak away from my desk at work just to have a few precious moments with it. The story opens with a renowned opera singer, Roxanne Coss, giving a private performance at the home of a vice president of an unnamed South American country. Several people in the room are already in love with her, and others wil To me, this book is luminous. Glorious. Magnificent. Perfect. (Well, almost perfect. I'll explain in a moment.) I first read "Bel Canto" in 2005, and I was so absorbed in the story that I would sneak away from my desk at work just to have a few precious moments with it. The story opens with a renowned opera singer, Roxanne Coss, giving a private performance at the home of a vice president of an unnamed South American country. Several people in the room are already in love with her, and others will fall in love with the sound of her voice. The moment she's done singing, the room is stormed by guerrilla fighters, and everyone in the home is taken hostage. What follows is a fascinating look at what happens when a group of strangers are forced to live together for weeks. The fighters make demands, a poor Red Cross volunteer acts as intermediary with officers outside, and meanwhile, everyone inside the house tries to get along, despite numerous language barriers. Which brings me to one of my favorite characters, the translator Gen. Without Gen, the entire story could not have happened, because he was the one who helped people communicate. Gen is constantly in demand, translating from English to Spanish to Russian to Japanese and back to English again. There are some surprising and emotional attachments that form -- even Gen falls in love! -- and by the end of the book, I was in tears. My only complaint is with the ending, which I won't spoil, but to say I was devastated is an understatement. But given the scenario, you can't really expect a happy ending, can you? The characters are beautifully drawn, Ann Patchett's writing is gorgeous, and some of the scenes are so vivid that it would make a wonderful film. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves literary fiction. Brava!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nishat

    Men of great importance were held hostage with a soprano. Until they realized how trivial their existences have been to the world and the world's to them. Men of different countries, men of different taste and language shut their eyes to the same beauty. Terrorists with gun earned sympathy worshipping that beauty only. A priest found his God next to him. Bel Canto embodies art itself. The book celebrates the love for what is beyond and what is incomparably greater. Our deaths don't define us, nei Men of great importance were held hostage with a soprano. Until they realized how trivial their existences have been to the world and the world's to them. Men of different countries, men of different taste and language shut their eyes to the same beauty. Terrorists with gun earned sympathy worshipping that beauty only. A priest found his God next to him. Bel Canto embodies art itself. The book celebrates the love for what is beyond and what is incomparably greater. Our deaths don't define us, neither our birth places. It is always the things we seek. And Ben Canto beautifully explores that. I wanted to write a book that would be like an opera in its structure, its grandeur, its musicality, its melodrama. Anne Patchette's carefully woven tale moves from one being to another within a room. And for a confined story such as this, she gives life to a soaring voice. Drawing no line for herself, the abundance of well crafted words and flow of noble emotions in this savage plot, can get overwhelmingly on one's nerves which may as well explain the mixed reaction. In Bel Canto best human qualities blossom and present the philosophical problem that comes with the idea of every ideal society. With all the contradictions coming from a single room, there's no doubt the room wouldn't stand when the time comes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Phrynne

    I have read a few of this author's books now and I know what to expect. Perfect prose, well defined characters, a slow rambling story like a stroll in a beautiful park. And more often than not a difficult ending. Bel Canto demonstrates all of those characteristics. Reading it was a real pleasure and the author did not put a foot wrong literary wise. All of the characters are well defined and by the end they become people you know and some like Gen you really want to meet. Then there is the ending I have read a few of this author's books now and I know what to expect. Perfect prose, well defined characters, a slow rambling story like a stroll in a beautiful park. And more often than not a difficult ending. Bel Canto demonstrates all of those characteristics. Reading it was a real pleasure and the author did not put a foot wrong literary wise. All of the characters are well defined and by the end they become people you know and some like Gen you really want to meet. Then there is the ending. Just for once I thought the author was going to get it right. It was traumatic yet expected and almost a relief when it arrived. Then she added an epilogue which was most definitely not required. It was just wrong. I can vaguely see what she was aiming for but it was still wrong. Four stars for a beautiful book which would have been five if I could just mentally unsee that epilogue!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I was only 3 when Patty Hearst showed up on TV toting a semi automatic weapon looking bewildered and stylish in a length leather belted coat. Do I remember this? Hell no, I was three, but later… you know when I was like eight or nine and I would think it was so cool that she was brainwashed---what an interesting word--- and I’d have Barbie kidnap Skipper and force her to drop her frumpy ways and really live the lie…, I mean life. Sorry. So, what does that have to do with this? Well, I guess you I was only 3 when Patty Hearst showed up on TV toting a semi automatic weapon looking bewildered and stylish in a ¾ length leather belted coat. Do I remember this? Hell no, I was three, but later… you know when I was like eight or nine and I would think it was so cool that she was brainwashed---what an interesting word--- and I’d have Barbie kidnap Skipper and force her to drop her frumpy ways and really live the lie…, I mean life. Sorry. So, what does that have to do with this? Well, I guess you could say that I was intrigued with the whole idea of Stockholm Syndrome way before I knew it had a name. Just imagine becoming emotionally attached to people that held you hostage. Isn’t that a bit fucked up? Duh. (As my 4 year old would say) So, Bel Canto, while the characters and events are mostly fictionalized, was based on an actual hostage situation in Peru in 1996. Where 72 people men were held up in the Japanese Ambassador’s home for 126 days. I must have been living under a rock, because I do not remember this… you think that something like this would have stuck, you know? I’m sure I was too wrapped up in my glee that Judge Judy was now being syndicated. Whoo. Can you imagine living with terrorists for 4 and ½ months? My god, I can’t imagine that the same level of fear is maintained. I would think that you would start to develop a relationship with these kids (yes, they were basically children) and start to feel that this is what your life has become. And so it goes in Bel Canto , these characters, hostages and terrorists are introduced systematically throughout the beginning of the ordeal and Patchett does a good job of fleshing them out and getting us attached. To a point. I think that this is one of those books where your opinion of it will vary depending on where you are in your life. I can see this book leaving different impressions on someone who maybe has just found new love and someone who is jaded by relationships. Moreover, I think that this could determine just how much you liked this book. I’ve teetered between 2, 3 and 4 starts in just the few days since I’ve finished it. This is most definitely a chick lit book. You’ve got the Soprano who has men falling at her feet (almost literally) every time she belts one out, you’ve got the young idealists who, of course, are beautiful and destined for a tragic outcome… and you’ve got the older, more elegant group of men, pining for love lost and all that. Something for every taste, I suppose. The appeal of a good book is how long and hard it stays with you. When I finished this, I was eager to share the story with my friends and family but as the days wore on, the shine was lost and I started to see the faults and the hackneyed plot. I miss the first day when I was caught up in the story and lamenting the outcome. Why can’t it always be like that?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    A novel about a hostage crisis that goes wrong -- with very sexy results, Bel Canto might have been a better read if at some point Patchett did anything to acknowledge the plot's ridiculousness. Instead, she treats the readers to vague social commentary about South America, multiple nobel savage tropes, and a crisis situation where people do have sex, but only after first taking the time to fall in love. It's also somewhat about opera, so allow me the metaphor that Bel Canto hits all the obvious A novel about a hostage crisis that goes wrong -- with very sexy results, Bel Canto might have been a better read if at some point Patchett did anything to acknowledge the plot's ridiculousness. Instead, she treats the readers to vague social commentary about South America, multiple nobel savage tropes, and a crisis situation where people do have sex, but only after first taking the time to fall in love. It's also somewhat about opera, so allow me the metaphor that Bel Canto hits all the obvious notes with competence but without ever risking enough to engage the audience. Not to be a pure hater, I did love the hell out of the cover art.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    Stay With This One. It's Worth It. Bel Canto is one of those novels that is good on so many levels, it's taken me days after finishing it to put my thoughts about the story and the characters into words. This work is as lyrical and dramatic as any opera, and the word "brilliant" isn't excessive to describe the talent of author, Ann Patchett. I wondered how she came up with such a remarkable and unique story, but then learned she'd been influenced by actual events involving a hostage situation in Stay With This One. It's Worth It. Bel Canto is one of those novels that is good on so many levels, it's taken me days after finishing it to put my thoughts about the story and the characters into words. This work is as lyrical and dramatic as any opera, and the word "brilliant" isn't excessive to describe the talent of author, Ann Patchett. I wondered how she came up with such a remarkable and unique story, but then learned she'd been influenced by actual events involving a hostage situation in Peru. Patchett goes far beyond the headlines and enters the minds of the players on both sides. It's a fascinating story and a rewarding and entertaining character study. The first 100+ pages were slow going as the stage is set; however, the ennui I experienced while reading helped me relate to the monotony of daily life experienced by the guests of a party, who'd been taken hostage in a failed attempt to kidnap the President of a South American country. The country, unnamed in the story, is a developing, Spanish-speaking nation. The party, hosted by the Vice President, is a birthday party for a Japanese businessman. It is filled with an International guest list, including the famous and enormously talented opera soprano, Roxanne Coss. Virtually everyone in the room, both hostage and captor, falls in love with her during the four-month siege. The story picks up speed when two distinct love stories begin, one between Roxanne and one of her admirers, and another, which focuses on the second-most sought-after talent possessed by a multi-lingual interpreter, a Japanese named Gen. Each, along with several intriguing subplots, led to the building of a unique story and ultimately satisfying climax. The ending comes quickly and shook me to my core. It was not unexpected and yet it still made me cry. And then there's a surprise, which after a lot of thought, made perfect sense. Brava Ms. Patchett. My highest recommendation.

  15. 4 out of 5

    karen

    yes, i have just discovered betterbooktitles.com

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    I just couldn't do it! The premise was great, the writing was swallowable, but the story! The painful, painful story. There was no character that I truly cared about, and when the "hostages" became "free" or whatever I threw the book across the room and there it has remained ever since. A hefty dust bunny now resides atop. I'd rather read Better Homes and Gardens than finish this one.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I read this book because my girlfriend--who loved it--recommended it to me. She also implied that I could stand to girly up my reading list a little, which is probably fair. Man does not live by novelizations of '70s cop movies and '80s slasher movie tie-ins alone. Anyway, I thought it was good. The characters were all likable and the story was engaging, if wholly improbable (Bel Canto could just as easily have been titled The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome). My main problem with it was the w I read this book because my girlfriend--who loved it--recommended it to me. She also implied that I could stand to girly up my reading list a little, which is probably fair. Man does not live by novelizations of '70s cop movies and '80s slasher movie tie-ins alone. Anyway, I thought it was good. The characters were all likable and the story was engaging, if wholly improbable (Bel Canto could just as easily have been titled The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome). My main problem with it was the writing style, which I really didn't care for. Each sentence is perfectly crafted, and would make any MFA writing professor thrilled, but therein lies the problem. The writing is so well-crafted sentence by sentence that it ends up being somewhat characterless and a little dull in large portions. The prose in Bel Canto almost seemed as if it was written to specifically defy any editorial criticisms. It does this with aplomb, but the problem is that it never takes any risks either.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandice

    Bel Canto is the second book I've read by Ann Patchett. Commonwealth was the first and I loved it. I'd been wanting to read Bel Canto for a long time. I liked some of the book but there were parts of it that really seemed to drag on and I had no problem setting it aside at intervals. I felt like the action came very! late in the story. The ending was fine, however, I wasn't thrilled (or even kind of pleased) with the epilogue. For all the hype I'd hear about this book, it was somewhat of a letdo Bel Canto is the second book I've read by Ann Patchett. Commonwealth was the first and I loved it. I'd been wanting to read Bel Canto for a long time. I liked some of the book but there were parts of it that really seemed to drag on and I had no problem setting it aside at intervals. I felt like the action came very! late in the story. The ending was fine, however, I wasn't thrilled (or even kind of pleased) with the epilogue. For all the hype I'd hear about this book, it was somewhat of a letdown. That said, I liked the overall story enough to want to finish it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    L A i N E Y

    [[notes]] I just watched the movie and I was kind of shocked how it made me a whole lot more emotional than reading the book itself. Julianne Moore made this story feels believable for me. Splendid casting. —————— This book was so weird. Made even weirder by that epilogue. This is the first book I read that I did not like the epilogue. I just didn't feel 'danger' or 'passion' for that matter. It didn't jump off the page for me. I wouldn't have finished it at all if I wasn't ill with the flu. You kno [[notes]] I just watched the movie and I was kind of shocked how it made me a whole lot more emotional than reading the book itself. Julianne Moore made this story feels believable for me. Splendid casting. —————— This book was so weird. Made even weirder by that epilogue. This is the first book I read that I did not like the epilogue. I just didn't feel 'danger' or 'passion' for that matter. It didn't jump off the page for me. I wouldn't have finished it at all if I wasn't ill with the flu. You know, lethargy and all. That was the only reason I didn't mark this as dnf. The voices in this had this flat tone to them which was strange considering a large chunk of the book talked about singing and opera and passion. I think at times it veered into this sort of fatasy land. Maybe it's the author’s real intention to show us how Stockholm Syndrome felt? Possibly though I'm not sure. I just cannot really see how everyone could love opera that much. Because everyone in this LOVED opera THAT MUCH. It felt like the author didn't follow through and just left a lot of things out. I mean a lot!. Disoriented was a fitting description of how i felt after turning the last page. I was actually laughing but then I have a tendency to laugh when things got too preposterous. I wouldn't say it was that in this case but it got pretty close. Of course, (view spoiler)[it was devastating for kidnappers and kidnappees alike. But I felt almost no sadness for any of them when the rescue happened (hide spoiler)] since I already knew the outcome anyway, the author told us early on. The end of the hostage situation and the epilogue have this gaping hole left open. And there's a disconnect between those two events that I wish we got to get a glimpse of, if not a chapter. I still to this day, a week later, wonder why the author didn't just show us.

  20. 5 out of 5

    jo

    i don't think i want to rate this book. in my opinion it's not a good book, but there is something very powerful about it and i don't think a rating can do justice to the combination of these two facts -- the fact that it isn't a good book and the fact that there is something powerful about it. it isn't a good book for all the reasons everyone who gave it one star brings up. what is powerful about it is that the whole book is a tribute to womanhood. someone told me yesterday that everyone loves i don't think i want to rate this book. in my opinion it's not a good book, but there is something very powerful about it and i don't think a rating can do justice to the combination of these two facts -- the fact that it isn't a good book and the fact that there is something powerful about it. it isn't a good book for all the reasons everyone who gave it one star brings up. what is powerful about it is that the whole book is a tribute to womanhood. someone told me yesterday that everyone loves women. it had never occurred to me, but of course it's true. womanhood is the locus of desirability. this book is a tribute to the desirability of women. this seems to me its great power. you can say that the desirability in the book revolves around music but that would be false; it revolves around women. what is powerful, in my opinion, is that this point -- that women are the locus of desirability -- is made in a rather unself-conscious, unexamined way in what seems to me, all things considered, a rather superficial novel (sorry everyone). i wouldn't be surprised if ann patchett were not even aware that she wrote a book about the desirability of women (or she may know now because i can't possibly be the first person to notice this, but it wouldn't surprise me if she didn't know it when she wrote it). the fantasy here is that there is a household of men and three women, two of whom are highly desirable, and nothing bad happens to these women. all the men fall in love with the women with a passion all of them find impossible to express, but the line into violation, abuse, violence, or even genderpower is never crossed. in fact, the line barely exists. it's mentioned two or three times in the book by the narrator, but it seems as if the characters, (view spoiler)[except maybe for carmen (hide spoiler)] , cannot even conceive of it. all fifty-nine (or however many they are) men think and act as if they had made a solemn pact to forget that women are ever taken advantage of. no, that's not true, because then there would be some strain, some tension. so let me try again: it's as if the power of the music or the power of the captivity or the presence of the priest or something had inoculated these guys from the male drive to possession and control of women. as i said, the novel does nothing to delve into the complexities of this, but it is still interesting to me to see how powerfully this fantasy of female desirability/safety is constructed. everything in the novel contributes to shoring it up. the fantasy didn't tickle me (do i love my men and women locked in mortal combat?) but my guess is that what most people liked in this book, what drew them to it, is precisely this otherwordly, peaceful, tender scenario: two women worshiped by more than fifty guys who want nothing in return and would never dream of touching a hair on their heads.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Robert Beveridge

    Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (Harper, 2001) I have spent quite a while mulling this over, and have finally come to the conclusion that, patterned after Greek tragic opera or not, I can't forgive Ann Patchett for the climax of this novel. Much of that has to do with the beginning of the novel; I'd have been inclined to be more forgiving had the first hundred pages not moved at a snail's pace. But the book finally picked up, everything was going along swimmingly, and then, suddenly, bam-the most predict Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (Harper, 2001) I have spent quite a while mulling this over, and have finally come to the conclusion that, patterned after Greek tragic opera or not, I can't forgive Ann Patchett for the climax of this novel. Much of that has to do with the beginning of the novel; I'd have been inclined to be more forgiving had the first hundred pages not moved at a snail's pace. But the book finally picked up, everything was going along swimmingly, and then, suddenly, bam-the most predictable possible climax. The story is based on accounts of the guerrilla takeover of the Peruvian embassy in 1992, but Patchett moves the action to another, unnamed, South American country and adds a few extra ingredients into the mix. In Patchett's story, opera singer Roxane Coss has been lured to the embassy for the birthday party of a wealthy Japanese industrialist whom the country hopes will build a factory there. During the festivities, the guerrillas invade, and a hostage situation begins. It drags on, and soon the strict militarism with which the siege begins evolves into a more relaxed system, where the line between terrorist and hostage begins to blur. It's after that line begins to blur that the book really takes hold. The original three chapters, that describe the scene and introduce us to most of the main characters, are painfully slow. Patchett hits her stride, and the book takes off. For the middle two hundred pages, it's easy to see why the book won the Orange Prize and was shortlisted for so many others. Then comes the climax. My initial reaction is that it was the biggest letdown I'd had in a novel in a number of years, and that's saying something. After some discussion, I tried to accept it as the pace and events of the book being modeled on Greek tragic opera (where such clichés as the climax of this novel were coined). I don't know enough about Greek tragic opera to really make a judgment one way or the other as to the accuracy of Patchett's patterning. I do know that in modern reinterpretations of older works (think Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres for an excellent example), what we often change is what has become clichéd in the years since the work was originally written. Such is not the case here, and it certainly kept me from enjoying the book as a whole as much as I otherwise would have. Great middle. Mediocre beginning. Awful ending. Still, the hundred pages that are worth saving are remarkable, and worth the price of admission. ** ½

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Exquisite. Patchett does two really remarkable things here. Well, she does many remarkable things, but two I'd particularly like to point out: 1. When an author loves her characters too much, the reader can often tell. Situations and descriptions seem contrived, and there is a veneer of (usually unintentional) dishonesty. But in Bel Canto, it's clear that Patchett is in love with her characters, yet she is able to remain objective and in control. Her role as the omniscient narrator allows her to Exquisite. Patchett does two really remarkable things here. Well, she does many remarkable things, but two I'd particularly like to point out: 1. When an author loves her characters too much, the reader can often tell. Situations and descriptions seem contrived, and there is a veneer of (usually unintentional) dishonesty. But in Bel Canto, it's clear that Patchett is in love with her characters, yet she is able to remain objective and in control. Her role as the omniscient narrator allows her to travel in and out of various character's minds, and she does so with grace and assurance. Each emotion feels true to the character, and each character feels distinct and real. Patchett's gentle yet powerful language moves around the room and through the diverse characters easily and intentionally. 2. How often do authors rely on villains and extremes to make their stories stand out? What struck me on completing Bel Canto was that the characters are in a situation that strips them down to their essentials and forces each of them to come to know their true selves. What Patchett does that feels almost revolutionary is that for every character, from terrorist to CEO, when they see their true selves what they see there is goodness and love for others. How amazing it is to think that we are so much better than we know! Tragedy is foreshadowed from the beginning, yet the book is really about beautiful moments and realizations. When cut off from the outside world for a few months, both the captors and the hostages are free to discover love and other talents. The bizarre nature of the situation, coupled with the endless stretches of time in one place, allows for people to connect across cultures and individual variances. I'm making this sound cheesy, but it's not at all. Even with such an improbable premise, nothing is maudlin or exaggerated, no character is a caricature -- and that is a real accomplishment.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    There is nothing I can say. I don't even know how. Instead, I will veil my head, lament the deaths of each person loved since the beginning of time, and cry tears of unsurpassed desolation in the hopes that tomorrow, the sun will shine on my face and god will see me standing there.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    There are certain books which start with a bang and drag you in. And before you know, you are in the midst of the story. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is one such book. It is a birthday party in honour of Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese tycoon, in the Vice Presidential mansion in an unnamed Latin American country, whose government hopes he will invest there. Mr. Hosokawa, however, has come only to hear the famous lyric soprano Roxane Coss perform live - he has been an opera lover all his life, and a fan of There are certain books which start with a bang and drag you in. And before you know, you are in the midst of the story. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is one such book. It is a birthday party in honour of Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese tycoon, in the Vice Presidential mansion in an unnamed Latin American country, whose government hopes he will invest there. Mr. Hosokawa, however, has come only to hear the famous lyric soprano Roxane Coss perform live - he has been an opera lover all his life, and a fan of this famous singer from Chicago ever since he first heard her. At the conclusion of the performance, the lights go off and when they come back on, the party find themselves hostages of La Familia de Martin Suarez, a revolutionary organisation which are dime a dozen in most of these banana republics. They have come for the president, who was to have attended the function - but who cancelled at the last minute and decided to stay at home to watch his favourite soap opera. So the terrorists are in a quandary. Ultimately they decide to keep the more famous and influential of the hostages and let the others go. These number forty - thirty-nine men and one woman, Roxanne Coss. What follows is the surreal existence of fifty-eight people - forty hostages and eighteen terrorists - in the palatial villa of the Vice President, Ruben Iglesias. Apart from him, there is Hosokawa and Roxane; Hosokawa's interpreter Gen Watanabe; the French Ambassador Simon Thibault; A trio of hot-blooded Russian dignitaries; the priest Arguedas, who even after being released refuses to go as he feels his duty is with the prisoners; Kato, an employee in Hosokawa's organisation who finds hidden talents within himself as an accompanist to Roxane. Among the revolutionaries, there are the generals led by the shingle-infected Benjamin; the brainy Ishmael, who learns chess by watching; the talented Cesar, who is accepted as a pupil by Roxane; and Carmen, the girl soldier, who wants to be taught to read and write by Gen Watanabe. As the days go by and weeks stretch into months, the boundaries between captive and captor become blurred and it just becomes a seething mass of humanity trying to make sense of life at close quarters, in a suspended-animation-like existence where Roxane's singing is the only constant, the fulcrum around which their lives revolve. Everyone is in love with Roxane. Not as a person, or even as a woman; but as a symbol of the divine art which flows through her. Everyone want to possess her, be her - whether it is the millionaire Hosokawa, the government functionary Fyodorov, padre Arguedas, the girl revolutionary Carmen or even the kid Cesar who gets an erection when she sings. It is not coincidental that the novel opens with the sentence "When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her." This accompanist, who has been besotted with her and has been forcing his unwanted attentions on her from the moment they got on the plane, is a diabetic dies due to lack of insulin on the second day of captivity - as if prompting others to step into the vacuum. When she says she cannot live without singing, Father Arguedas arranges to get sheet music for her, and Kato jumps in as accompanist. From then on, life in the hostage camp is a musical journey. Apart from Roxane, the one character who holds the novel together is Gen Watanabe. In his capacity of translator, he becomes the tongue and ears of the imprisoned tower of Babel. As the days go by, the languages mix and meld and Gen becomes not only a translator - but a teacher too: most importantly, a teacher to young Carmen in the china cupboard at two o'clock in the morning - of Spanish, English and the pleasures of love. Language and music form the twin threads around which the narrative is woven. In Sanskrit, there is a couplet which says: "Music and literature are two breasts of the Goddess Saraswati: one, all sweetness from top to bottom; the other, nectar to thought." I was reminded of this throughout my reading experience. There is a type of movie in which the protagonists meet, interact, form and break relationships in the space of a limited amount of hours, in a gathering where they are forced into close quarters - Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game being the classic example. Here, the Vice President learns the pleasures of housework; the French Ambassador relearns his culinary skills; Cesar and Kato unleash their inner musicians; and Hosokawa and Roxane, and Gen and Carmen, fall in love. However, the narrative here is anything but realistic: it seems poised on the threshold of magical realism, a nod to which is slyly given in the form of one of the revolutionaries reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, and complaining it would take him "a hundred years to complete it." Being an ignoramus about Western classical music, I was totally lost about what the title meant and had to Google. This is what I got. Bel canto, (Italian: “beautiful singing”) style of operatic singing that originated in Italian singing of polyphonic (multipart) music and Italian courtly solo singing during the late 16th century and that was developed in Italian opera in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Using a relatively small dynamic range, bel canto singing was based on an exact control of the intensity of vocal tone, a recognition of the distinction between the “diapason tone” (produced when the larynx is in a relatively low position) and the “flute tone” (when the larynx is in a higher position), and a demand for vocal agility and clear articulation of notes and enunciation of words. - Encyclopaedia Britannica Though I got only a vague idea from the above, I feel it fits the "vocal tone" of the novel perfectly; with its surreal setting, its cacophony of voices, and its accompaniment of music. The prose is like Ernest Hemingway and P. G. Wodehouse collaborating. A wonderful read!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Bel canto means "beautiful song," and Anne Patchett wanted to write a melodrama. Big emotions, big events, like an opera. The plot of her book seems allegorical; it's certainly not realistic, which makes it a surprise that it's based on real events. She was inspired by the Japanese embassy hostage crisis of 1996, during which a number of diplomats were taken hostage for a remarkable 126 days. She thought - I'm taking much of my information from a terrific interview at the end of the book - she t Bel canto means "beautiful song," and Anne Patchett wanted to write a melodrama. Big emotions, big events, like an opera. The plot of her book seems allegorical; it's certainly not realistic, which makes it a surprise that it's based on real events. She was inspired by the Japanese embassy hostage crisis of 1996, during which a number of diplomats were taken hostage for a remarkable 126 days. She thought - I'm taking much of my information from a terrific interview at the end of the book - she thought, "You know what this story needs is an opera singer," and here we are. What she's carved out of this lengthy hostage crisis is a utopian society: the have-nots forced to coexist with the haves in a world where art is the only diversion and the unifying force. As in the real-world crisis, people of many nationalities are gathered together. There's a translator who serves as witness. Love is found. They make beautiful songs. It's like a more hopeful take on John Fowles's The Collector. Looming over it all is the suspicion that this probably won't end well, and it's to her credit that (view spoiler)[toward the end she actually had me half-convinced she was going to write a way out of it. (This is before I realized that it was based on a true story.) Even more surprising, I wouldn't have minded: I liked her characters so much that I would have taken any cheap excuse to see them live. They don't. The eventual "rescue" is sudden and agonizing. (hide spoiler)] It's a beautiful song, and this is the best book I've read in a while.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paula Kalin

    Good, but liked Sense of Wonder better.

  27. 4 out of 5

    S.

    All in all a little too sugar-coated for my taste – the discovered friendships, unlikely loves, the pervading beauty of every damn thing . . . And the purported passion surrounding one of the most important elements, opera, was unconvincing. It felt largely like a vacuous prop to be honest, like rattling off a list of arias to prove yourself a connoisseur of the beautiful. But the writing was decent and I decided about a quarter of the way through I shouldn’t be too hard-hearted (and the book aim All in all a little too sugar-coated for my taste – the discovered friendships, unlikely loves, the pervading beauty of every damn thing . . . And the purported passion surrounding one of the most important elements, opera, was unconvincing. It felt largely like a vacuous prop to be honest, like rattling off a list of arias to prove yourself a connoisseur of the beautiful. But the writing was decent and I decided about a quarter of the way through I shouldn’t be too hard-hearted (and the book aimed to soften the petrified heart). I should just try to enjoy it, which, following my snobotomy, I guess I did. But I don’t think it was a marvel of modern literature, or that it deserved the PEN/Faulkner award. I took a look at the list of PEN/Faulkner award winners and have to say those I’ve read were in another league. Finally, the end asked too much of me in terms of plausibility. Not to be mysterious. If you read it, you know what I mean. Or maybe you loved it. My mother did, which is why I read it at all. My mother begged me to read it, as she sometimes does with books she's enjoyed. It is hard not to try to comply once in a while. Still, she just read another Ann Patchett book about a magician and I’m going to have to tell her I’m passing on that one. . . She also loved “The Kite Runner” and whatever that writer’s new book is. I got a very long begging on that, but my snobotomy only goes so far...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karolina

    I mostly choose to try reading this book because someone I like told me it'd be good, and definitely made it sound interesting. When I looked at it individually, I wasn't that interested, and I stopped reading about after 100 pages. The characters seem uniform (except for the Mr. Hosokowa). Somehow, they became flat. It feels like there's no distinction between gender eventually, and the small quirks that separate each person start to fade out under all the jabbering about the opera singer. Exhau I mostly choose to try reading this book because someone I like told me it'd be good, and definitely made it sound interesting. When I looked at it individually, I wasn't that interested, and I stopped reading about after 100 pages. The characters seem uniform (except for the Mr. Hosokowa). Somehow, they became flat. It feels like there's no distinction between gender eventually, and the small quirks that separate each person start to fade out under all the jabbering about the opera singer. Exhausted, worried, bored, depressed hostages would probably not be considering a woman's beauty that much. I can imagine something else happening in a room full of men, isolated for weeks (months, or whatever it might be by the end), with a single, well-dressed woman they keep thinking about. I don't know if that happens, and I'm not really inspired to know. Just too much repetition.. There is not much happening, literally, or psychologically. I also doubt everyone would be so heavily interested in opera, and be so unconcerned about their lives. I can see people being passive a lot of the time, and that they would only get truly scared when they're life is actually threatened, but I don't see them being so casual like this. Everyone has their common knowledge of what a tired, deprived body feels like. I know I wouldn't think about men, art, or a few other things if I were in this state, no matter how much I love them. It just loses a sense of reality.. Makes me roll my eyes..

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    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 aliv 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 it's one of the best novels I ever read or ever hope to read in my life. High praise? Yes, but joyfully given." - Pat Conroy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vonia

    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 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. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanes...) 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 Patchett's 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 **** Terrorists: 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 Hosokawa's 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 Edith's 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.

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