Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett *****

I'd heard about this book somewhere, perhaps while listening to NPR. It sounded like an interesting experiment--what if a group of hostages started liking where they were and who they were with? What if they didn't want to be rescued? It's not really like Stockholm syndrome, it's something different. All the people are rich, powerful, and very busy. And when they are taken hostage, they suddenly have time.

The action takes place in the vice-presidential home of an unnamed country in South America. We are told the country is very poor, so in order to attract more investment they are holding a birthday party for a very important man--Mr. Hosokawa. Mr. Hosokawa is the CEO of an electronics company in Japan. But Mr. Hosokawa has no intentions of building a new plant in this "God-forsaken country". His only reason for travelling halfway around the world to this birthday party is because Roxanne Coss, the most talented operatic soprano in the world, will be singing for the guests. And Mr. Hosokawa's great love is opera.

So begins the infamous party, which soon turns ugly when three "Generals" and their barely teen aged troops sneak into the mansion through the air conditioning vents and take over the premises.

This is the kind of book I like, in that it is an in depth look at the characters and how they interact. Mr. Hosokawa, Gen, Roxanne Coss, Carmen, the Three Generals, Simon Thibault, etc. etc. You care deeply for them all by the end of the book, and fear what will happen to them. Roxanne I tended to get annoyed with, she was a very entitled person. But I have noticed that in general that if you act entitled, you are treated with entitlement. Of course you can't help but wonder how you would have behaved in the same situation. Selflessly, like Father Arguedas and Ruben Iglesias? Or otherwise?

I didn't like the ending of the book, but I think that was the point. It wasn't supposed to happen, and it leaves you feeling a sense of doom for the relationship that is featured. It's a futile attempt to recapture something that is gone forever. And haven't we all tried to do that ourselves?

If you like to delve into others, and thereby into yourself, I highly recommend this book.

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