I just finished reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for a second time today.  Bel Canto is Patchett’s most well-known and beloved novel. This blog post is not another review of what I have already written.  But, it is another look at her story and hopefully a different perspective of this improbable account of a hostage crisis.  This is the crux of the novel from my initial review:

Bel Canto was loosely based on the Lima Hostage Crisis of December 1996. Where members of a revolutionary guerrilla movement took hostage of high-level diplomats, government and military officials, and business executives who were attending a party at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru, Morihisa Aoki, in celebration of Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday.

Ms. Patchett’s version left the country unnamed, and the birthday party was for a wealthy businessman, Mr. Hosokawa. The home belonged to the vice president of this unnamed South American country and the hook of the novel revolved around Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano who performed at a birthday party per request by Mr. Hosokawa. The businessman loved opera, and the only reason he would have come to this unnamed country was because his favorite opera singer was performing at the party.

The guerrilla fighters took hostage of the residence because they thought the president of the unnamed country would be attendance for the birthday party. And if they could have taken the president as a hostage, all of their demands for freedom and overthrowing the government would be realized. However, the president did not attend the birthday party, and they kept everyone else as hostages.

Patchett unfolds the story slowly and reveals the relationships that develop under unlikely circumstances.  Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane. Gen the translator and Carmen, a soldier, meant to keep the hostages in line. Ruben Iglesias, the vice president of this unnamed South American country and Oscar Mendoza, another young soldier trying to follow orders.  Relationships and human connection are the aim of Bel Canto and Patchett uses this unlikely scenario to bring home those points.

I will admit that Roxane Coss, the famed opera singer, did not interest me as much upon this second reading.  Gen the translator and his connection to Carmen was more compelling.  Also, Ruben Iglesias, the vice-president, captures my interest too. Bel Canto holds up as a reread and provides a what if scenario that was intellectually stimulating and entertaining simultaneously.

I’m going to watch the movie to see how much it takes from the novel and hopefully adds its own perspective to a delightful and unique story. Bel Canto is a work of art and one of the best novels published since 2000.


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