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Bel Cantoby Ann Patchett
2002 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Winner of the 2002 Orange Prize
Finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award
"There are quite a few improbable aspects to Bel Canto, but the handful of times when I found my head popping above the surface of Patchett's novel to catch a quick lungful of realism — is it really possible that among a group of 57 assorted men there wouldn't be one opera hater or homosexual? — I was promptly sucked back under the surface by the book's bewitching undertow. This is a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us, and a couple of other unbearably cheesy themes, and yet Patchett makes it work, completely." Laura Miller, Salon.com (click here to read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
The government of a small South American country holds a birthday party for the head of Japan's leading electronics manufacturer, hoping to attract its business. Mr. Hosokawa, they know, can't resist the opportunity of a private performance by the world's leading soprano, Roxanne Coss. But it's not Hosokawa or Coss the terrorists want. The guerrillas who raid the party are after the country's president. Unfortunately, they quickly learn that he skipped the soiree to watch his favorite soap opera. Upon successfully storming the building, the naïve rebels find their kidnapping attempt foiled, and they don't know what to do. As Ann Patchett's new novel opens, fifty-seven men, eighteen terrorists, and one remarkable opera singer begin their new life behind the closed doors of the vice presidential mansion. Inspired by the four-month-long, 1996 Peruvian hostage crisis, Bel Canto "is ninety-eight percent fiction," the author says. Roxane Coss was her idea.
"Soon enough," Patchett writes, "the days were divided into three states: the anticipation of her singing, the pleasure of her singing, and the reflection on her singing." The New Yorker raved, "Patchett's tragicomic novel — a fantasia of guns and Puccini and Red Cross negotiations — invokes the glorious, unreliable promises of art, politics and love. Against this grand backdrop, the smallest gestures bloom with meaning." As Laura Miller concluded in a review for Salon.com, "Patchett makes it work, completely." Dave, Powells.com
Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots.
Without the demands of the world to shape their days, life on the inside becomes more beautiful than anything they had ever known before. At once riveting and impassioned, the narrative becomes a moving exploration of how people communicate when music is the only common language. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.
Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto engenders in the reader the very passion for art and the language of music that its characters discover. As a reader, you find yourself fervently wanting this captivity to continue forever, even though you know that real life waits on the other side of the garden wall. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers. It is a novel to be cherished.
"Patchett creates a remarkably compelling chronicle of a multinational group of the rich and powerful held hostage for months....Readers may intellectually reject the author's willingness to embrace the terrorists' humanity, but only the hardest heart will not succumb....Brilliant." Kirkus Reviews
"Ann Patchett's latest novel sneaks up so stealthily on the reader that before you know it, you've already skipped a meal or missed your meeting....The power and majesty of music, the power and acceptability of good writing. It's all there in Ann Patchett's Bel Canto." John Valentine, Independent Online
"Let me put this plainly: Ann Patchett has written the best book I've read in a long, long time. Bel Canto is a masterpiece true to its title, a beautiful song, a broad, bold entirely original love story destined to become an international classic. This is the book we all wait for, the one we thrust into the hands of friends, saying, 'You've got to read this! You've got to read this now!'" A. Manette Ansay, author of Midnight Champagne
"Patchett's tragicomic novel — a fantasia of guns and Puccini and Red Cross negotiations — invokes the glorious, unreliable promises of art, politics, and love. Against this grand backdrop, the smallest gestures bloom with meaning." The New Yorker
"[An] elegantly alluring book....Although this novel is entirely housebound, at the vice presidential mansion, Ms. Patchett works wonders to avoid any sense of claustrophobia and keeps the place fresh at every turn." Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Blissfully Romantic….A strange, terrific, spellcasting story.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“Bel Canto…should be on the list of every literate music lover. The story is riveting, the participants breathe and feel and are alive, and throughout this elegantly-told novel, music pours forth so splendidly that the reader hears it and is overwhelmed by its beauty.” —Lloyd Moss, WXQR
“Glorious.” —The New Yorker
Ann Pratchetts award winning, New York Times bestselling Bel Canto balances themes of love and crisis as disparate characters learn that music is their only common language. As in Patchetts other novels, including Truth & Beauty and The Magicians Assistant, the authors lyrical prose and lucid imagination make Bel Canto a captivating story of strength and frailty, love and imprisonment, and an inspiring tale of transcendent romance.
About the Author
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize), and the nonfiction bestsellers What now? and Truth & Beauty. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is co-owner of Parnassus Books.
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