Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Cover ImageFinished 4-14-11, rating 4/5, fiction, 318 pages, pub. 2001

There were worse reasons to keep a person hostage.  You keep someone always for what he or she is worth to you, for what you can trade her for, money or freedom or somebody else you want more.  Any person can be a kind of trading chip when you find a way to hold her.  So to hold someone for song, because the thing longed for was the sound of her voice, wasn’t it all the same?  The terrorists, having no chance to get what they came for, decided to take something else instead, something that they never in their lives knew they wanted until they crouched in the low, dark shaft of the air-conditioning vents: opera.  They decided to take that very thing for which Mr. Hosokawa lived.

Chapter 3

Terrorists of an unnamed South American country invade a party held at the home of the vice-president so they can kidnap the president.  Only the president did not attend and the terrorists are left with a house full of hostages and no way out.  There were too many hostages so they let all of the women go, save one, the world renown soprano Roxane Coss.  Now they are left with 59 men and one women and little chance of success.  When the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, the line between hostage and terrorist is blurred.

All of the men, terrorists included, fall in love with Roxane and her golden voice.  She sings every day for the house.  Mr. Hosokawa feels responsible since the party was held in his honor and he requested Roxane even though they had never met.  Since this house is full of important men, from all over the world, it is Mr. Hosokawa’s translator, Gen, who becomes the most important person in the house.  He spends his days having conversations for people and becomes indispensable to the terrorists as they negotiate with the Red Cross.

There are lots of characters in the house and it was confusing at first.  Actually I tried to listen to the audio, but then switched to paper and had better luck keeping everyone straight.  Each character had an important role in the house, but that didn’t mean I really cared about the characters, at least at first.  It is a slow read until the last third.  They were held hostage for so long with nothing happening except the forming of relationships that it took me a while to really get engaged in the story.  I was actually ready for it to be over and them, wham, the end comes and it was poignant, shocking in its speed and left me considering, even the day after.  I loved it.  For me, the ending saved the book from an average rating. 

I don’t want to give the impression that the first two-third of the book was completely boring, it wasn’t, bit it made me take my time and sometimes I got impatient.  The opera played a  huge part in the story.  It was used to inspire, to heal, and to comfort and I think music lovers will appreciate the story.

This is from my personal library chosen by Golda and Heather.  Here’s what Heather had to say…”I’m reading this right now, and it ’s great so far.”