Book Review: Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett


Rating: A

Set in an unnamed South American country, a party is thrown in honor of a visiting Japanese tycoon goes awry when a small guerilla band, intending to take the president as hostage, breaks in. Unfortunately, the president has opted not to attend in favor of watching his favorite soap opera resulting in the taking of the entire party as hostage.

Loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (or Lima crisis) of 1996–1997, the novel portrays at what can happen when people with no common language and from widely different backgrounds find themselves having to live with each other as  negotiation drags on.

Among the hostages are Mr. Hosokawa, the Japanese businessman and opera enthusiast; his translator, Gen; Roxanne Cross, a celebrated opera singer; and Reuben Iglesias, the vice president and other dignitaries and guest. And as the negotiations with the government drags on with weeks turning into months and drawn together by the appreciation of music and opera, unlikely relationships begin to grow between the hostages and their captors.

A subtle, lyrical and beautiful meditation on how friendships and love can be found in the unlikeliest places.




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