If you’ve never read Ann Patchett, there are a couple things you need to know before experiencing her writing. She writes books that make you think. Her books offer insights on human behavior in all types of hard situations. I’m not usually a big fan of prose but I don’t mind Patchett’s simple, yet descriptive prose that easily brings you into the story. You’ll be engrossed by the story whether you intend to or not. Bel Canto is Patchett’s most known novel, and also most award-winning.
Bel Canto (Italian for “beautiful song”) tells the story of a hostage situation in South America that went on for 4 months. It takes place at a birthday party being held in honor of a powerful businessman at the home of the country’s vice president. The evening’s entertainment, an opera singer, drew guests from around the world. In the middle of the party, a group of terrorists take the whole group hostage in exchange for the country’s president. People from different continents, many who could not communicate in the native language, were suddenly forced together in a panicked, life-threatening situation. What happens next is extraordinary.
The businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, is there with his interpreter, Gen. This master interpreter becomes one of the main characters since he is the only one who can communicate in all the languages of those present. He translates for the terrorists, the hostages, the authorities, and the aide who comes from the outside every day to supply medical assistance. Gen is the one who really brought these people who never would have intermingled together and kept tensions low.
The opera singer is the only woman allowed to stay; all other women are let go. The people find common ground through her music. It is so fascinating to watch this group interact and bond during a crisis. Hostages and terrorists become friends over the course of the 4 month period and learned things about themselves they never dreamed possible. It is through this situation that romance is kindled and relationships formed. I couldn’t believe a story with such brutal topics could be so beautiful.
Our book club read this during the November-December months when everyone is always busy. It wasn’t the best time to try to read a book like this. I think it’s best to allow yourself to get immersed in the story to truly experience the emotions you’ll feel. Believe it or not, it is inspiring. The challenges these characters overcome is unbelievable; it makes me feel hopeful for the current state of our world. There is good in all of us. We have to forge connections and bonds with those whom we normally wouldn’t mix.
I would recommend this book to music lovers. You’ll be swept away by the power music has over this group.
Goodreads rating: 4 stars out of 5