Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

1. First lines. 2. Publisher: Harper Collins. 3. Bel Canto, the opera. Photo credit: El Comercio 4. Singer. Free download Pexels 5. Image from page 209 of “Some forerunners of Italian opera” (1911) No known copyright restrictions Source: flickr
Bel canto means “beautiful singing” in Italian. In this story, music (and love) is a universal language among the captives and captors alike, creating some surprising relationships.
I liked this book.

In an unnamed country in South America, a group of terrorists storm the birthday party of Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, intending to kidnap the country’s President who has been invited to the party. Performing at the party is famous opera singer, Roxanne Coss, and guests include people from a variety of different countries speaking different languages. When the terrorists find that the President is not at the party, they hold a group of guests hostage, and through a Red Cross negotiator, attempt to make their demands to the government. The story follows the relationships that form among the hostages and their captors over a period of months until the siege finally ends. The story is based very loosely on the 1969 siege at the Japanese Embassy in Lima Peru.

“I’ve had enough of it. If anyone is going to shoot me they will have to shoot me while I’m singing.” In this way, Mr. Hosokawa knew she would be safe, as no one could shoot her while she sang. By extension, they were all safe, and so they pressed in close to the piano to listen.”

”He had recently received one of the amateur haircuts that had been going around. Where his head had once been covered in heavy rolls of curls, the hair was now snipped with irregular closeness. It bristled like grass in some places and lay down neatly in others. In a few places it was all but gone and small patches of pink scalp shone through like the skin of a newly born mouse. He was told it would make him look older but really it just made him look ill.”

Quotes from the book.
  • Kirkus: “Brilliant.”
  • The Guardian: “Like that of her heroine, Patchett’s great talent in Bel Canto is one of range. With bravura confidence and inventiveness she varies her pace to encompass both lightning flashes of brutality and terror and long stretches of incarcerated ennui. The novel’s sensibilities extend from the sly wit of observational humour to subtle, mournful insights into the nature of yearning and desire. Like the blueprint of operatic performance that she has imported, Patchett slides from strutting camp to high tragedy, minute social comedy to sublime romanticism.”
  • The New Yorker: “But this terrible world also holds art and love; of the book’s many rave reviews, one called “Bel Canto” “the most romantic novel in years” and another promised readers that they would experience “a strange yearning to be kidnapped.” The sole complaint about the saga that this reader heard was a protest, from a rigorous Jewish critic, that terrorists weren’t really so nice. But Patchett’s point, not only in this novel but in her well-regarded earlier three, seems to be that everybody is nice, given half a chance. In the pessimistic halls of literary fiction, she speaks up, gently but firmly, for human potential.”
Other editions.


Bel Canto is a 2018 hostage drama film directed by Paul Weitz, It stars Julianne Moore, and Ken Watanabe.

Bel Canto is an opera by Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez. It was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, and staged by Kevin Newbury. The cast included Danielle de Niese and Jeongcheol Cha.


Author’s website: Ann Patchett

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