A modern classic!
Set in an unnamed South American country, Bel Canto is a story of the lower classes’ anger encountering the upper classes’ opulence, only to find that the two groups can meld surprisingly well.
Mr. Hosokawa is a powerful Japanese electronics businessman who is celebrating a birthday. The unnamed country has decided to throw him a party in the hopes he will open his next large-scale factory within their nation. In truth, Mr. Hosokawa has no interest in their country and is only attending because they’ve hired the best opera singer in the world, Roxanne Cross, to sing for him. He harbors a deep love and appreciation for her and her talents and is desperate to meet her while being nervous about bothering her. Accompanying him is his translator Gen, who becomes a central role in the book.
As Roxanne Cross finishes her last song of the evening, the lights are cut, and a group of freedom fighters/terrorists enter the party, taking all the attendees hostage. The leaders of this group are seeking to kidnap the president as his government is responsible for the death of a young boy they are related to. However, upon taking over the party, the leaders quickly learn the president has skipped the event to watch a popular soap opera, leaving the Vice President in charge. The generals have no plan B, and thus ambassadors, businessmen, and high society people are now held hostage in a mansion with these men with no plan to go off.
The novel moves forward with the terrorists attempting to figure out how to get the attention of the president, the ambassadors, and government employees who cannot get ahold of their leaders, and Roxanne, one of the few women in the house, becoming close with Mir. Hosokawa.
Despite finishing this days ago, I’m still unsure how I feel about it. The beginning was fantastic, and the writing was wonderful, but I never felt like I had an emotional connection with an of the characters and thus didn’t care about their fates. There is also a LOT of opera referenced throughout the novel, and as someone with no interest in opera, I was really struggling to follow. I also have no knowledge of music in general (in terms of reading it or notes), so many of the reasons why Mr. Hosokawa loved Rozanne were lost on me. The novel’s pacing also feels odd as it takes place over several months, yet it doesn’t feel that way while reading.
Nevertheless, the writing and characters stand out here, making this an excellent choice for any book club. The character of Gen was terrific, and I wish there were more written from Roxanne’s POV as she was such a force in the novel and yet never really got her chance to speak her truth. With all these weird men constantly thirsting over her, Roxanne’s perspective would be far more interesting to read than large sections of this.
Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Three Descriptors: Moving, Lyrical, Dramatic
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