Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

What a surprising, lovely book! I was entranced from the very beginning and carried through on a wave of delight all the way to the end.

A powerful businessman from Japan, Mr. Hosokawa, is given a birthday party in a South American country. The country's leaders are hoping to persuade Mr. Hosokawa to open a factory there. To persuade him to come to the party they dangle the perfect gift: the presence of Roxanne Coss, a shining star in opera, considered by many to be the best soprano in the world. Mr. Hosakawa, an opera lover since he was a small child, cannot resist. Even though he knows he will never build a factory there.

The party, though, is overtaken by terrorists who seek to kidnap the country's president, who was expected to be there. But he wasn't. The terrorists, who had no backup plan, kidnap the entire party instead and hold them hostage in the mansion of the vice-president.

The group, which is winnowed down some in the first days, lives in the mansion for months. Over these months roles change and relationships develop. The terrorist group lets down its guard but continues to make demands.

We get to follow the intertwining of these lives, the gentle acceptance of one by the other, the blossoming of love in different parts, the celebration of small (and not so small) wonders. More, we get to experience music in a way most people have never experienced it. Although we don't hear a note we can understand how it transports both hostages and hostage-takers alike. I doubt I have ever read such a beautiful homage to the power of music.

The story is simply told, almost like a fable. It is structured elegantly and purely. A beautiful book.

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