Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel CantoBel Canto by Ann Patchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've often wondered about the chicken or the egg question when considering the motives of terrorists. In most cases there seems to be a cause each group believes in, sometimes passionately. Yet they also seem to love the control and power that comes with violent action, even when the action will most likely cost them their lives.

In Bel Canto Ann Patchett has given us a different kind of terrorist. These men would rather flourish their guns than use them. These generals treat both their soldiers and their captives with respect, listening to their requests, considering them and often granting them. Having never been a hostage, I can't say if this is an unrealistic picture of the terrorist mindset, but it is certainly far from what I've ever imagined.

And that is what makes the book wonderful!

The takeover of Mr. Hosokawa's birthday party is an excuse for slowing down the lives of powerful people so they can reflect on what is important in life. They think about their relationships, their families, and about the love of art. Roxanne Coss, a great opera soprano, is one of the captives and everyone uses this opportunity to appreciate her talent. Gen, a translator who works for Mr. Hosokawa, becomes a favorite of everyone held because of his talent to communicate. All the characters, soldiers and prisoners, take time to get to know each other and to think. It is as if they have been taken to a monastery and forced to meditate.

There are twists and surprises in the book's plot, but readers are propelled forward more by the relationships that developed than suspense.

I see from some of the other reviews that this plot was inspired by a real event that happened in Peru and I can understand why that can be upsetting to some people. But writers are always inspired by real events. Bel Canto should be appreciated for where it takes us and what it is on its own.

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