Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

“Bel canto” (literally, “beautiful song” in Italian) is a style of singing characterized by graceful, smooth, and pure tones. The novel, set in an unnamed South American country, opens in the vice president’s mansion at a concert by the famous opera singer Roxane Coss in honor of Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa’s birthday. An attempted military coup interrupts the event, and rebels take the guests hostage. Over the following weeks in the isolated confines of the government mansion, an unlikely community develops as the unifying power of Miss Coss’s music causes the divisions between captors and captives to blur. Friendship and even romantic love ensues. Writing in third-person omniscient point of view, Patchett moves seamlessly between the minds of various characters, allowing readers to know them intimately. We meet Gen Watanabe, Mr. Hosokawa’s loyal translator; Carmen, the delicate young woman disguised as a male to aid in the rebels’ cause; Father Arguedas, the innocent, opera-loving priest; Vice President Ruben Iglesias, gracious host to his imprisoned guests; and the intellectual but tormented General Benjamin, leader of the rebels. Readers accustomed to more action-oriented plots may at first be thrown off balance by the leisurely pace of the novel. I would advise you to be patient with this book. Relax and settle into the atmosphere of the story as you would enter into the world of sound created by a classical aria. Over the course of this character-driven narrative you will find yourself sympathizing with the characters and hoping against hope for a happy ending for them—as the plot intensifies right up to its climactic conclusion.

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