Tuesday, January 10, 2012

book review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The backstory: Bel Canto won the Orange Prize in 2002. Ann Patchett's latest novel, State of Wonder, was my favorite read of 2011. In 2012, I'm reading all of her backlist, beginning with Bel Canto.

The basics: In a South American country, the vice president hosts a birthday party for a Japanese businessman to entice him into building a factory in their country. Mr. Hosokawa has no intention of building a factory there, but attends because Roxane Coss, his favorite opera soprano will perform for his birthday. When terrorists arrive to kidnap the president, who did not attend, they are instead left with many other hostages.

My thoughts: Ann Patchett and I clearly share a fascination for how people react in extraordinary situations and the depth of humanity. In Bel Canto, the terrorists are as human as the hostages, and I found myself illogically rooting for them at times. In many ways, this novel is the story of Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, but Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's translator, stole the book. Gen is Japanese but fluent in numerous languages: "Sitting alone in his apartment with books and tapes, he would pick up languages the way other men picked up women, with smooth talk and then later, passion." Most importantly, he was able to translate for all of hostages. The hostages were an intriguing motley crew of people from around the world. Through Gen, they found ways to communicate. A shared love of Roxane's singing transcended language and provided unity.

Favorite passage:  "Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.:

The verdict: Bel Canto is a wonderful, thought-provoking, invigorating novel that examines the humanity in all of us. It is a fascinating story of hostages and captors, but it's also more. This novel is a celebration of the arts and the human spirit.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: May 22, 2001
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Bel Canto from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version.)

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

14 comments:

  1. I loved this book as well, and was just discussing the merits of this book over the merits of State of Wonder last night with Heather from Book Addiction. It's very close, but I think I enjoyed State of Wonder just a teensy bit more. This was a great review, and reminds me that I need to read this one again. Thanks!

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  2. I could not get into this one when I tried reading it, but it's one I would most certainly be willing to revisit.

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  3. I have never read Patchett. SHAME! Bel Canto is on my shelf though - just scored a lovely copy from Goodwill.

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  4. I too have never read any Patchett, and I kind of dismissed this book because I heard from an opera friend that the opera bits are inaccurate to the point of irritation. However, your enthusiasm for this book makes me think I need to soften my stance!

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  5. I read this book probably the year it came out and my reading taste was similar but not quite as developed as now so while I enjoyed it, I felt that the ending was just eh. I was more into plot twists and all that. But I still have always had a fond memory of that book and have liked it nevertheless. Reading your review and the passages you wrote makes me think I would appreciate it such a different way if I were to read it now!

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  6. I'm reading this now and so far I love it! I'm glad it didn't disappoint you.

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  7. So glad you liked this one!! I admit to feeling rather sad when I hear people didn't. I thought Patchett's writing was simply beautiful but her ability to draw the characters is what kept me interested in this one.

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  8. This is one of my very favorite books. I'm so glad you loved it!

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  9. I haven't read any Patchett, but I will probably start with this one. I'm glad to see that you liked it.

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  10. I read this one many moons ago and clearly remember also thinking Gen stole the show. By Patchett, I also liked The Patron Saint of Liars.

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  11. I read this before I started blogging, but I absolutely loved it. Patchett wrote the story so beautifully!

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  12. This is one of my top 5. A near-perfect novel, in my opinion - the last chapter is its fatal flaw. And by far my favorite Ann Patchett. Loved your review!

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  13. I loved this book too! It was my first Patchett novel (I've also read her memoir, which I loved too), but definitely not my last!

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  14. Yes, this is one of my favorite books! I loved the language but also the complexity of the characters.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!