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Book Review: Bel Canto

Reviewed By: Woodstock - RAM

[4 stars]

Bel Canto     Amazon US PB Amazon Canada PB
Ann Patchett
Class/Genre:   Mystery   Romance   Psychological Suspense

The author got her idea for this book from an actual seige on the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru a few years ago. During an elegant party and reception for some visiting diplomats, a local rebel group took the embassy and all within it hostage. After a period of several months all the rebels were killed, and the hostages freed unharmed.

She was intrigued by this incident, and has written a very unusual novel - which celebrates the power of music, the power of education and learning, and considers the price paid when thoughtful intelligent men close their minds to reality.

A world famous operatic soprano has been booked to sing at a recital following a diplomatic reception held in an unnamed South American country. Present at the party are important representatives of various governments, important businessmen from Japan, and administrative aides, translators, and spouses of those attending. A rebel political group crashes the party, entering the impressive mansion through the air conditioning ducts, and takes all present hostage. Their announced aim is to free certain political prisoners held in the jails of the country. Within a few hours, all the women are released with the single exception of the soprano - who stays to assist her accompanist who has suddenly been stricken extremely ill.

The hostages and the rebels begin an isolated coexistence in the mansion - living there for four months while negotiations take place outside. The reader is never privy to any of the outside negotiations, the book takes on the feel of a submarine movie where all action on the surface of the sea remains unknown to those stationed on her; or a lifeboat story with unrelated persons cast adrift to who knows where.

Gradually the two groups begin to share the simple day in day out events of living. They cook for each other, watch television together, play chess with each other, and eventually leave the confines of the house and play soccer on the lawns. Personalities interact in odd unpredictable ways, we learn there are two young women among the rebels. Love affairs begin; unrequited lovers press their respective suits; young men who have never had any hope of education begin to learn; a young priest comes into his own full compentence; and a single forlorn Swiss diplomat attempts to bring events to a humane conclusion.

Throughout the entire four months, the soprano never ceases to work on her craft - recruiting a new accompanist from among those present in the house - and rehearsing daily. This gives the book its name and provides a lovely thread of art woven through what is ultimately a tragic tale.

Woodstock - RAM

Reprinted with permission. Do Not repost without permission from the author, Woodstock - RAM

Please visit Woodstock's Blog at http://www.journalscape.com/woodstock/

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