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Bel Canto

November 26, 2015

BelCantoAnn Patchett has an entrancing ability to weave together disparate characters in the unlikeliest of situations into a compelling story.

In Bel Canto, those characters include:

  • Roxanne Cass – a globally famous American soprano opera singer;
  • Katsumi Hosokawa – founder and chairman of Japan’s largest electronics industry and opera lover;
  • Gen Watanabe – linguistic polymath and Mr. Hosokawa’s personal translator;
  • Rubén Iglesias – born into poverty, having worked his way through school to become a lawyer, politician and now vice-president;
  • Carmen  – a young Quechua terrorist from the jungle of her unnamed South American country with a devotion to St. Rose of Lima.
  • General Benjamin – the chess-playing former schoolteacher turned guerilla fighter.

The government of this country which is not Peru* has enticed Hosokawa to visit with the promise of a private performance by Cass.  The concert is held at the vice-president’s mansion; at the last minute, the president is unable to attend—and thus is not taken hostage by General Benjamin, Carmen, and the rest of La Familia de Martin Suarez when they arrive.

After a few days, everyone in the house—hostage-takers and hostages alike—begins to settle into a weirdly out-of-time existence, building relationships that otherwise would not exist and that the characters, to varying degrees, realize would not last outside of the hothouse environment of this slow-moving hostage crisis.

Patchett has a remarkable talent for making these relationships come to life as they develop day by day, page by page, incrementally shifting and changing so that when love affairs emerge—as they do between Ms. Cass and Mr. Hosokawa, and between Gen and Carmen—they seem unforced and wholly believable.

*Bel Canto was inspired in part by the events of the 1996 Lima Crisis, when members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement stormed a party at the Japanese ambassador’s residence and held a group hostage for 126 days.

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