But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.
Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers.
©2001 Ann Patchett; (P)2001 HarperCollins Publishers
"Patchett can be counted on to deliver novels rich in imaginative bravado and psychological nuance. This fluid and assured narrative...demonstrates her growing maturity and mastery of form." (Publishers Weekly)
"Mixing art and politics can have unexpected results, but rarely are they so poignant....[Anna Fields'] performance is the essence of Bel Canto, easy, pure of tone, with an agile, precise vocal technique." (AudioFile)
I looked at this book about 20 times before finally deciding to download it. Although it received lots of other great reviews, I worried it would either be depressing or hard to get into. It was neither, and was extremely enjoyable -- I'd definitely give this one a thumbs up. One of those books that makes you examine what it means to live in the present moment and enjoy the beauty of every day.
I have a 5-book history with Patchett. Bel Canto is a book that I volleyed in and out of my wish list for years. The premise seemed compelling: terrorists guerillas storm the home of a Latin American vice president while he is entertaining international dignitaries, including the beautiful opera diva Roxanne Coss and Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa. During the following 4 month siege, separated from the world with the heightened sense of the fragility of life, the captives overcome their language barriers through music, i.e. Roxanne's opera, and delicate bonds of humanity bloom in spite of the hostile environment.
Patchett is intent on proving music is the magical universal language, setting out to develop this construct into a novel by casting her stage with a diversity of characters from various origins. In attempting to relate the participants' individual reactions as they are forced to face their mortality, examine their mental constitutions, Patchett takes on a production that is just too grand for the time frame of the book she intends. It soon becomes clear, as you try to understand the suddenly incongruous behaviors of the characters she first presesnted you with, that it's impossible to give the reader the necessary internal dialogues of these people which validates their behaviors; their actions, even under the circumstances, do not follow from the personalities she invited to the party -- the dilemma of the non-sequitor behavior. The plot's integrity may have held together better had Patchett foregone the internal dialogues and psychological digressions, had she allowed the reader to ponder the inner machinations. The relationships could have been believable had I been able to imagine their progression instead of being jerkily forced into bed...the psychological build up is what creates atmosphere, intrigue, and logical involvement.
So, I come again to my ususal criticism--the crux of my on-going struggle with Patchett...if I am being asked to suspend belief (which you must do when everything defies facts, reason and logic), give me great and beautiful flights of fantasy or anarchy--toy with logic, but don't mistake my eagerness to share your wonderful writing with an open ticket to negate intelligence. Creating a story that charmingly coaxes me to the *suspension of belief* is very different from insisting that I accept glaring flaws and deviations. I may be jaded, may have lost my naivete, but I can go with any flow as long as it doesn't tumble over boulders of glaring impracticality. But, you see what you think:
1) all of the men, including the terrorists, are immediately enamored of Roxanne and her operatic talent;
2) the terrorists willingly fly in tubs of $1000 eye cream from France, lemon-scented shampoo from Italy, and crates of sheet music for Roxanne;
3) the terrorists allow the hostages to spread out through the mansion, occupying the bedrooms, dressing from the generous host's closets;
4) the out-numbered hostages secretly conjugate under the noses of the vigilant terrorists, some even meeting in the pantry for sex;
5) a young guerilla (whom speaks only his native language) spontaneously bursts into perfect opera, going on to conquer German, French, and Italian operas in weeks under the tutelage of Roxanne (who knows none of his language);
6) the captors come to enjoy their captivity as well as their captors - cooking meals together, playing chess - soccer on the grounds..."Hostages vs. Terrorists";
7) the vice president, whose home has been overtaken, decides to adopt a young terrorist when the siege ends.......I've belabored the point. It began to warp into a bizarre summer camp for the international, multi-lingual elite.
I can't deny the beauty contained in the pages, the charm, the graceful flow of prose; I've always found Patchett's writing to be melodic, even at times ethereal, I understand her following. The scenes in this novel evoked beautiful stage settings; a world suspended in a snow globe, caught in graceful slow motion with the chaos of the outside world spinning around the center scene. There is a sense of romantic melancholy, the opera-like impending doom, barely camouflaged by all of the lovely farce. The narrator does an excellent job, and has a mellifluous voice that had me believing she herself could launch a successful music career. I enjoyed her presentation very much, and think she could be a part of any book choice I make in the future.
After 5 Patchett novels, I have to realize that no matter how intriguing Patchett's premises may seem to me, we are not a copacetic match. (The tree-gnawing hallucinatory pregnant elderly natives from State of Wonder still boggle my mind.) She may make beautiful music, but I can't get beyond the scratches and jumps to hear the song. [*Thank you for your time reading my opinion.]
There is no question, Ann Patchett's ability with the written word is certainly one to admire. This is the first book of her's that I have listened to or read and I picked it up on the recommendations of the other reviewers. However, all that being said, I was sorely disappointed by this book. These are the nicest terrorists I've ever heard of, the characters are unbelievable and over-dramatic, and the ending is abrupt and lame. It almost seemed like Ann got tired of writing and needed an easy out.
In my opinion, what started out with such promise simply fell flat. I thought Ann wrote beautiful descriptions and I enjoyed her style of writing, but this story was so unbelievable that I will probably never venture back to this author. Last note, the narrator's accents tried my patience here and there, but not enough to ruin the experience, especially considering the myriad of accents she had to cover (French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian).
This is the best audiobook I've ever listened to. I was spellbound by it. Anna Fields doesn't just narrate the story she becomes a dozen different people - most of them men! This is the kind of book that makes you wish for a traffic jam so you can listen longer. Of course, Patchett's story itself is compelling. The building of relationships between the hostages and the terrorists is perfectly built. By the end you've become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome yourself. I've recommended this book to just about everyone I know.
This book did not rivet me or make me excited to listen and hear what would happen next, but because of all of the good reviews and awards by the experts I stuck with it. I decided it was worth my listening time to wait for the payoff at the end. I knew there would be no plot surprise, because the author told me at the beginning of the book what was going to happen, so I was left wondering what was going to be the "other payoff." This is the deepening understanding that comes through spending hours with a group of characters that finally in the end show you something new about yourself. Unfortunately for me that did not happen. However, I did like all of the characters and I think the author painted a clear picture of most of her leads. I cared about them and I felt the pathos of what happened to them. I still was thinking of the book a couple of days later. But can I say that I enjoyed my listening experience? Maybe, but I don’t think it is one of my favorites.
Going back to the rave reviews and literary awards. I can see that the union between her subject matter (opera) and her stylistic form was very well crafted. This form makes for a great discussion in a book review. However, is that a reason to highly recommend a book to readers? No.
A suggestion... If these characters did more than sit around a house for four months getting to know each other the plot would have been more interesting.
I haven't written a review for a long time, but I feel compelled, although it's been more than six months I've read/listened to the book. The story starts in one direction, it's not too hard to fllow but also not very compelling at the beginning, I wasn't sure I was going to listen to the whole book. It's well worth if you pass the first hour or two, as then plot takes on some completely unexpected turns, and the story unfolds as a beautiful love song(s). The reason I give it five stars is because, it is one of the few audiobooks which have kept with me long after I finished them. I love the Time Traveler's Wife, for the same reason. The writing is suberb, and the situations don't have to be believable. It doesn't take long to really feel sorry for everyone and yet enjoy the contradictions of the "huis clos" in the embassy. For those who may wonder (like me before I started to listen), there is not much relation with the Peruvian embassy takeover, although the setup is pretty much the same. Once we're locked in with the hostage, it doesn't matter where or when we are, it's all about the interrelationship between hostages and their captors. Enjoy!!!
"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket
Maybe I love Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto so much because my father used to be an opera singer; maybe it’s because I found the story so compellingly original; but maybe, and most likely, it’s because it was recommended to me in my first week on the job here at Audible by my two favorite colleagues. But no matter the reason, this is a must-listen based on the late Anna Fields’ lyrical performance alone.
Daily Dog Walker and LONG Silicon Valley commutes, so I gulp through and love lotsa books, especially literary fiction and Mystery.
Magnificent, Magnifico, Magnifique-- I'm not one to use superlatives yet wish I was fluent in Japanese, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish...because this...canto...I almost hate to trivialize it by calling it anything other spans multiple cultures and sensibilities with a grace and and authenticity I rarely find in any book, any author. The author sets the conditions for the story early on, she tells you what will happen...yet it is impossible not to read, to become enraptured with the interlocking stories and characters as they reveal themselves to their most unlikely counterparts (artists, diplomats, terrorists...). The author's pitch is perfect all the way through, she manages a flawless denouement, Brava, Brava, Brava!
The narrator is perfectly matched to the book, I believed her in every character, gender, accent she personified - wonderful job on her part.
I hate to keep spewing these superlatives, but I think it's the kind of book that, if people read the summary of the plotline, they might shy away from -- so I hate to divulge...anything, just urge others to listen, it is my personal "read of the year."
It's not often you find a book that has an excellent plot AND reads like poetry. I thought every sentence from this book was worth treasuring and pausing over, but I was so interested in seeing what was going to happen, that I rushed through it. Fortunately, I'll enjoy listening to it a second time just as much.
I loved all the well-developed characters, and it was so refreshing to read a book with such a unique premise.
This book had the effect of making me want to appreciate to the fullest every day of the rest of my life.
I've listened to dozens of audio books and this is the best one ever! The characters, very richly drawn right from the beginning, grow and change in surprising ways. The narration, complete with accents, was done beautifully. It never distacts and serves only to enhance the authors words. Even though the author wants you to know the inevitable outcome long before it happens, you will wait breathlessly to see how she writes about it. The author is masterful in her descriptions of everything from the state of mind of a female terrorist to the imprint left in the grass by 2 lovers.
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