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Bel Canto

Bel Canto

3.9 310
by Ann Patchett

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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 Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the


Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots.

Without the demands of the world to shape their days, life on the inside becomes more beautiful than anything they had ever known before. At once riveting and impassioned, the narrative becomes a moving exploration of how people communicate when music is the only common language. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

Editorial Reviews

Madison Smartt Bell
Bel Canto has all the qualities one has come to expect from a classic Ann Patchett novel: grace, beauty, elegance, and magic.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As her readers now eagerly anticipate, Patchett (The Magician's Assistant) can be counted on to deliver novels rich in imaginative bravado and psychological nuance. This fluid and assured narrative, inspired by a real incident, demonstrates her growing maturity and mastery of form as she artfully integrates a musical theme within a dramatic story. Celebrated American soprano Roxane Coss has just finished a recital in the home of the vice-president of a poor South American country when terrorists burst in, intent on taking the country's president hostage. The president, however, has not attended the concert, which is a birthday tribute in honor of a Japanese business tycoon and opera aficionado. Determined to fulfill their demands, the rough, desperate guerrillas settle in for a long siege. The hostages, winnowed of all women except Roxane, whose voice beguiles her captors, are from many countries; their only common language is a love of opera. As the days drag on, their initial anguish and fear give way to a kind of complex domesticity, as intricately involved as the melodies Roxane sings during their captivity. While at first Patchett's tone seems oddly flippant and detached, it soon becomes apparent that this light note is an introduction to her main theme, which is each character's cathartic experience. The drawn-out hostage situation comes to seem normal, even halcyon, until the inevitable rescue attempt occurs, with astonishing consequences. Patchett proves equal to her themes; the characters' relationships mirror the passion and pain of grand opera, and readers are swept up in a crescendo of emotional fervor. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Lucky Mr. Hosokawa. The well-connected Japanese businessman, now in an unnamed South American country on yet another job, is having a very special birthday party. At the home of the country's vice president, opera singer Roxane Cos will be performing for him and his guests. But what's this? Armed men invading the premises? These ragtag revolutionaries are looking for the president and disappointed that he is not there, but that doesn't stop them from holding the party goers hostage. What happens after that was, for this reviewer, a story that failed to ignite. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars) generates little tension as she moves her players around the board, and one is disappointed that there is little reflection about the head-on clash of art and life. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Combining an unerring instinct for telling detail with the broader brushstrokes you need to tackle issues of culture and politics, Patchett (The Magician's Assistant, 1997, etc.) creates a remarkably compelling chronicle of a multinational group of the rich and powerful held hostage for months. An unnamed impoverished South American country hopes to woo business from a rich Japanese industrialist, Mr. Hosokawa, by hosting a birthday party at which his favorite opera singer, Roxane Coss, entertains. Because the president refuses to miss his soap opera, the vice-president hosts the party. An invading band of terrorists, who planned to kidnap the president, find themselves instead with dozens of hostages on their hands. They free the less important men and all the women except Roxane. As the remaining hostages and their captors settle in, Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's multilingual translator, becomes the group's communication link, Roxane and her music its unifying heart. Patchett weaves individual histories of the hostages and the not-so-terrifying terrorists within a tapestry of their present life together. The most minor character breathes with life. Each page is dense with incident, the smallest details magnified by the drama of the situation and by the intensity confinement always creates. The outside world recedes as time seems to stop; the boundaries between captive and captor blur. In pellucid prose, Patchett grapples with issues of complexity and moral ambiguity that arise as confinement becomes not only a way of life but also for some, both hostage and hostage-taker, a life preferable to their previous existence. Readers may intellectually reject the author's willingness to embrace theterrorists' humanity, but only the hardest heart will not succumb. Conventional romantic love also flowers, between Gen and Carmen, a beguilingly innocent terrorist, between Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane. Even more compelling are the protective, almost familial affections that arise, the small acts of kindness in what is, inevitably, a tragedy. Brilliant.

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 8.26(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss. They did not see a kiss, that would have been impossible. The darkness that came on them was startling and complete. Not only was everyone there certain of a kiss, they claimed they could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her by surprise. They were all looking right at her when the lights went out. They were still applauding, each on his or her feet, still in the fullest throes of hands slapping together, elbows up. Not one person had come anywhere close to tiring. The Italians and the French were yelling, "Brava! Brava!" and the Japanese turned away from them. Would he have kissed her like that had the room been lit? Was his mind so full of her that in the very instant of darkness he reached for her, did he think so quickly? Or was it that they wanted her too, all of the men and women in the room, and so they imagined it collectively. They were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in. Maybe music could be transferred, devoured, owned. What would it mean to kiss the lips that had held such a sound?

Some of them had loved her for years. They had every recording she had ever made. They kept a notebook and wrote down every place they had seen her, listing the music, the names of the cast, the conductor. There were others there that night who had not heard her name, who would have said, if asked, that opera was a collection of nonsensical cat screechings, that they would much rather pass three hours in a dentist's chair. These were the ones who wept openly now, the ones who had been so mistaken.

No one was frightened of the darkness. They barely noticed. They kept applauding. The people who lived in other countries assumed that things like this must happen here all the time. Lights go on, go off. People from the host country knew it to be true. Besides, the timing of the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights had said, You have no need for sight. Listen. What no one stopped to think about was why the candles on every table went out as well, perhaps at that very moment or the moment before. The room was filled with the pleasant smell of candles just snuffed, a smoke that was sweet and wholly unthreatening. A smell that meant it was late now, time to go to bed.

They continued the applause. They assumed she continued her kiss.

Roxane Coss, lyric soprano, was the only reason Mr. Hosokawa had come to this country. Mr. Hosokawa was the reason everyone else had come to the party. It was not the kind of place one was likely to visit. The reason the host country (a poor country) was throwing a birthday party of unreasonable expense for a foreigner who had to be all but bribed into attending was that this foreigner was the founder and chairman of Nansei, the largest electronics corporation in Japan. It was the fondest wish of the host country that Mr. Hosokawa would smile on them, help them in some of the hundred different ways they needed helping. That could be achieved through training or trade. A factory (and this was the dream so dear its name could hardly be spoken) could be built here, where cheap labor could mean a profit for everyone involved. Industry could move the economy away from the farming of coca leaves and blackhearted poppies, creating the illusion of a country moving away from the base matter of cocaine and heroin, so as to promote foreign aid and make trafficking of those very drugs less conspicuous. But the plan had never taken root in the past, as the Japanese, by nature, erred on the side of caution. They believed in the danger and the rumors of danger countries such as this presented, so to have Mr. Hosokawa himself, not an executive vice president, not a politician, come and sit at the table was proof that a hand might be extended. And maybe that hand would have to be coaxed and begged. Maybe it would have to be pulled from its own deep pocket. But this visit, with its glorious birthday dinner replete with opera star, with several meetings planned and trips to possible factory sites tomorrow, was a full world closer than they had ever come before and the air in the room was sugared with promise. Representatives from more than a dozen countries who had been misled as to the nature of Mr. Hosokawa's intentions were present at the party, investors and ambassadors who might not encourage their governments to put a dime into the host country but would certainly support Nansei's every endeavor, now circled the room in black tie and evening gown, making toasts and laughing.

As far as Mr. Hosokawa was concerned, his trip was not for the purposes of business, diplomacy, or a friendship with the President, as later would be reported. Mr. Hosokawa disliked travel and did not know the President. He had made his intentions, or lack of intentions, abundantly clear. He did not plan to build a plant. He would never have agreed to a trip to a strange country to celebrate his birthday with people he did not know. He was not much for celebrating his birthday with people he did know, and certainly not his fifty-third, which he considered to be a number entirely without note. He had turned down half a dozen strong requests from...

Meet the Author

Ann Patchett 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, which earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1994. She is also a recipient of the Nashville Banner Tennessee Writer of the Year Award. Patchett has written for many publications, including New York Times Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, GQ, Elle, Gourmet, and Vogue.

Patchett attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she took writing classes with Alan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. While an undergraduate, she sold her first story to the Paris Review. Patchett then went on to attend the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, and in 1990, she won a residential fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Here she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was awarded a James A. Michner/Copernicus Award for a book in progress. The Patron Saint of Liars was adapted into a TV movie for CBS in 1997, and Patchett wrote the screenplay for Taft, which has been optioned by Morgan Freeman for a feature film.

Patchett lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Brief Biography

Nashville, Tennessee
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1963
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1987

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Bel Canto 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 310 reviews.
review4U More than 1 year ago
Ms Patchett has successfully extends writing techniques developed by Jose Saramago (Nobel Prize in Portugal) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you liked Blindness or One Hundred Years of Solitude you will love this book. Bel Canto is a masterpiece of writing with a very controlled technique that doesn't waver throughout the book. It tells the story of a disparate group of people taken hostage in a botched attempt to abduct the president of an unnamed South American country. The setting is the palatial home of the country's vice president where a famous soparano has come to sing as a birthday president for a Japanese industrialist. The author manages to easily juggle numerous points of view simultaneously and seamlessly so the story is told sympathetically threw the eyes of the terrorists and the hostages. The story is suspenseful but requires close reading and also workes as an unusual love story.
alias_dw More than 1 year ago
Bel Canto was a book assigned to me in a college English class focused on novels. This was the most traditional novel in the course yet the story was one of the most original. Bel Canto is a love story on every level. The plot revolves around a group of party goers taken hostage by South American rebels. The characters are complex and although they are all very different people they form close bonds, overcoming language barriers, the barrier of hostage taker and hostage, and socioeconomic barriers. Love is the catalyst that brings them together. Although this is a love story, its not a traditional love story. It is sometimes sensual but there are all kinds of love in Bel Canto. A good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Centered on the basics of Operatic Style, Bel Canto, is a well-written, passionate novel of chance. By including love, lust, and tragedy, Ann Patchett created this intense, lyrical novel. The events entailed within this novel are slightly based on true events which occurred during December 1996. For four months, 14 terrorists held hostages captive inside the Japanese Embassy of Lima, Peru. The novel depicts the passion and anger many of the hostages might have felt during those four months. The novel was directly inspired by the hostage's captivity.

Starring Opera's famous Soprano, Roxanne Coss, Bel Canto opens with a bang. Katsumi Hosokawa had been in love with Roxanne's powerful voice since he developed his love of Opera. Today, he is a powerful owner of a Japanese Electronic company. Hosokawa's birthday was that evening. He wanted to celebrate and spend the evening listening to the beautiful melodies of Roxanne's voice. Hosokawa held his party at the mansion of the Vice-President of South America. Roxanne began singing one of the many pieces found in her repertoire. When suddenly, the lights go out, and the 200 foreign diplomats soon find themselves hostages of an unlikely group of young terrorists under the command of General Benjamin.

The novel expands from that evening and continues for four months. The hostages eventually learn that they need to help one another in order to get through this crisis. The terrorists would not allow them to leave the mansion. They were watched cautiously. Many of the hostages began bonding with each other and formed friendships. Even the cold-hearted industrialist Mr. Hosokawa used his love of Opera to teach him how to socialize with other people. He forges a friendship with his idol Roxanne Coss. She also found it in her diva character to associate with other people.

Through the four months, the captives are eventually granted more privileges from the terrorists. As ironic as it may be, the terrorists also befriend their hostages. Many of the people found inside the mansion change their demeanor. Those who were once shy and timid such as Ishmael learn to let their own voice be heard. The translator Gen Watanabe also learns to speak for himself and doesn't allow the language barrier found between the 200 foreign diplomats affect him. He finds his voice among the multiple languages he communicated with.

Overall, Bel Canto is based on fate. Many of the characters were polar opposites, but with the given circumstances, they find their soul mates. Only with fate could a powerful professional man like Gen Watanabe fall in love with a young terrorist from a small village in Latin America. Destiny also brought Katsumi Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss together. Their friendship blossomed into an intense loving relationship with the hands of fate.
CinderCC More than 1 year ago
I loved this book as much as I loved the other one I read by Ann Patchett: The Magician's Assistant. I was hooked on the first page. There is love, humor, conflict, etc. The situation is very unique, and to talk about it might spoil the surprise for you. I felt a little let down by the ending, but maybe it's just because I didn't want the book to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bel Canto is beautifully written and the characters enthrall you!! This novel grabbed my attention and I became utterly consumed in the lives of these characters--which rarely happens. If you like a slower paced book and a well-written novel, then this book is well worth it.
fiorentina More than 1 year ago
This is a story that remain in your heart long after you finish the last word. A timeless classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most books have good and bad parts, but Bel Canto really had it's ups and downs. On the good side, it had some very relatable characters that you wanted the story to end well for. It was well written, and quite descriptive. On the down side, it was a decent storyline, with a quite abrupt ending. At times, the description drew on a little too long, and grew boring. Overall, it wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it wasn't a bad read either.
LostinTime More than 1 year ago
Ann Patchett is an amazingly skilled writer! Her characters are so diverse and painstakingly nuanced she has a real knack for putting the reader in the thick of it. I can see how some people may have found it boring, the 'action' of the capture happens very early in the book and is over just as quickly, but for me even though the more you learn about the characters and how their relationships with each other evolve the pages just kept flying by! I felt desperate to find out how the situation would end. This book will stay with me for a long time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really was hooked from page one of this novel. It's truly a gripping piece of literature. What I found amazing about the story was how although the characters speak different languages and come from different backgrounds, the language of music brings them together. It's quite a remarkable book. It should be apparent to anyone familiar with opera who the main character is based on. I wish the ending was different. (I never bought into the relationship that occurs.) But, it's overall one of the best novels I've read in ages.
tchrreader More than 1 year ago
I really couldn't get into this book. I tried and tried but it just didn't capture my attention, I thought it sounded good but the story was not very captivating or entertaining. This is the story of a vice President who has a birthday party. His favorite opera singer is invited to preform at the party for him. Terrorists end up arriving and taking the guests at the party hostage. I could not get into this book, it had a good idea it was just hard to read, I thought. Not recommended for fun.
Bookclub_enthusiast More than 1 year ago
Did NOT enjoy this book. I gravitated towards reading this book because it was an award winner and sounded extremely interesting. Terrorists keeping a group of strangers hostage for months, the book held promise. Stockholm syndrome was poorly explored. The characters were uninteresting. The alliances between strangers, who became more than friends, were improbable. The story plodded along to a thoroughly disappointing ending. There are many books you should read before you pick up this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt like i was there. Transported to another country. Patchett is a master of setting. Also Loved how the characters developed and how their real talents and personalities were slowly revealed. Couldn't find my Puccini CD -- went out and bought a new one. Music heals. Read this book and hear the music.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Musically woven and told: Someone told me you can’t write a novel without first choosing a single point of view. It’s not true. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto uses multiple viewpoints to powerful effect, riding musically over events then focusing tight on the tune of a single voice, only to twist and turn away again. Terrorism writ small in the lives of a small group of people; terrorism writ quiet in the waiting game; terrorism where terror recedes and common humanity takes over… this novel paints the characters of a very real world while keeping the details secret, because it’s not the cause or time or place that matters so much as the people. Relationships grow in a microcosm of hope where captors and hostages settle in to eat and sleep, to watch and to learn from each other. A quiet sense of foreboding intrudes like the bass beat repeated with reminders that this settling life must end. The knowledge that any ending’s going to be bad plays a haunting refrain. But the author kept me guessing right up to the final resolution; I hoped as the people hoped, felt inspired by the opera singer’s song, and dreamed a better place. In the end, a book has to close and the world has to be reopened again. The author closes Bel Canto with a curiously convincing confidence, leaving the past still playing in the eaves as the last notes rise and fall in a haunting echo. I really loved this book. Disclosure: A good friend loaned me the book in hopes I might love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mixed feelings about this book. The writing is commendable. Passages are so full-bodied that, at times, the reader is lulled into a satisfied, dream-like state. What is pictured by the mind lingers. But, the pace is so panstakingly slow and the premise so unrealistic that one loses interest in the beauty of the written word and ends up just wanting to finish the book to see what happens.
Jackie Greenberg More than 1 year ago
Great book, but the ending didn't seem true to the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first Ann Patchett book I've read and I can hardly wait to read the rest of her books. Great character development, easy to fall in love with the characters. An ending so unexpected, I should have expected it.
Randall Haight More than 1 year ago
This book was woderful to read. I hated for the last chapter to come and for the magic to be broken. It is one of the few books I have read piece by piece so I could savor it like a fine wine.
suzyd More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all time favorites. The writing is excellent. A great story cleverly told that tells of a group of hostages and their relationships with their captors. Stockholm syndrome displyaed. The characters are so real you feel as thought you are there with them.
TLeopard More than 1 year ago
This is a perfect novel.
Reader-by-Night More than 1 year ago
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was last month's pick by my Book Club and what a great discussion it caused!! The characters are so well developed that one is 'sucked-into' the story before you realize it. An intriguing/thought-provoking tale of what happens when a group of people at a gathering are taken hostage by a group of terroists. The terrorists' plan doesn't go as planned..and a several month period passes ..and relationships between captives and captors develops. The dialogue is very believable and the storyline raises many questions such as: "If one believed one only had only a short time to live, would one make decisions that were outside of one's typical behavior?" Two-thumbs up !! Highly recommended Note: I also listened to an audiotape version of the Book which was superb.
rfbRB More than 1 year ago
I struggled to really get into this book at first, however once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the twist of events and even liked the ending....despite the way it ended!!
wxgirlb More than 1 year ago
This book had a great start, but then toward the middle it became boring and it was extremely unrealistic. I had to read this book for my English class and it was torture. The ending was so unbelievable I thought I was going to vomit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book to be extremely boring. I'm surprised I finished it, it was a very repetitive, dull read. And the end was ridiculous.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My book club read this book and out of 6 , not a soul liked the booked. It was actually discussed that for the first time in in over 2 years we switch the book after starting to read it. It is that bad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a top favorite. Pachette takes a conventional plot device--strangers forced into close confinement--and treats it with elegance, even humor. When revolutionaries of an unnamed South American country barge into a state dinner, taking 140 dinner guests hostage, they're disappointed: their real target, the country's president, isn't in attendance. He opted to stay home to watch his favorite TV soap opera! The hostages are held in the vice president's house for nearly a year. What begins as a tower of babel where captives speak in different tongues becomes a palace of enchantment--where time stands still and music overcomes the barriers of language to find common humanity in captors and hostages alike. I love this book.