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Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

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“People love each other for all sorts of different reasons…. Most of the time we’re loved for what we can do rather than for who we are. It’s not such a bad thing, being loved for what you can do.”

I have been wanting to read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for years. It was one of the books I was determined to read from my unread shelf and for my summer TBR list. Now that I have read it, I cannot believe I had not read it sooner. It was amazing. I believe this is Patchett’s most well-known book, and I just discovered that a movie version is coming out in September with Julianne Moore. I am delighted at this news. Bel Canto begins with Roxane Coss, a famous soprano, singing at the private birthday party of Mr. Hosokawa in an unnamed South American country. The whole goal of the party is to have Mr. Hosokawa’s Japanese company Nansei open up a factory in this country, but Mr. Hosokawa has no interest in building a factory there. In fact, the only reason that he even came to the country was to hear Roxane Coss sing opera. When the party is interrupted by a group of terrorists, everything changes for both the partygoers and the terrorists.

The terrorists are really just soldiers from the jungle who are unhappy with the way the government has been treating the poor. There are three generals and a lot of teenage soldiers. Most of the partygoers are shocked that they were overpowered by a bunch of children. The terrorists wanted the President of the country, but at the last minute, the President decided to skip the party so he can watch his beloved soap opera. The party is at Vice President Ruben Iglesias’ home, and when the terrorists demand to see the President, Ruben is the one to break the news and completely throw the terrorists’ plans out the window. They do smack Ruben with the butt of the gun in the face to set an example. But once the women, children, elderly, and sick are released, the terrorists become more relaxed around the hostages.

These hostages are from all over the world and not only do the not know each other, most of them do not even speak the same language. Luckily, Mr. Hosokawa has his translator Gen with him. Gen is able to communicate in his native Japanese, English, Spanish, French, Russian, German, and several other languages. Gen becomes the go-to guy for everyone. He is constantly having to interpret and translate for the hostages and then becomes the Generals’ secretary when they have to communicate with the Red Cross negotiator, Joachim Messner.

Music, specifically opera, is the one unifier for both the hostages and the terrorists. They may not all be able to understand each other, but every single person is in awe of Roxane’s singing ability. She is the most famous soprano in the world at the time of the hostage crisis, but then as she is the only woman who is forced to stay at the house, her fame and celebrity goes through the roof, at least according to Messner in his daily updates to the house. Even though most of the teenage soldiers and even some of the hostages did not know much about opera, every time Roxane Coss sings, everything stops, and everyone is struck still by her talent.

Who would have thought a hostage crisis centering around an opera singer and businessmen from all over the world would capture my heart the way Bel Canto did? I absolutely loved this book, and I am baffled that it has taken me this long to give it a go. I am thrilled to see the movie. I do hope that Julianne Moore will sing because hearing Roxane’s voice is such a huge part of the story. I have read Commonwealth and This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, but I wanted to read Bel Canto next before starting on any of her other books. Which I can do right away, since I have picked up three or four of her books from our library book sales. Ann Patchett is such a gifted writer, and I am glad that I finally read Bel Canto. I give it 5 stars! Also, I am dying to visit Parnassus Books.

If you read Bel Canto, what did you think? What are some of your other favorite Patchett novels?

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