Erin Kendrick, September 22, 2011 (view all comments by Erin Kendrick)
This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It is romantic and emotion tugging without being sapping or over the top, something that I think would appeal to a variety of readers. It was surreal and dramatic and beautifully slow and I wanted to savor it and draw it out. I have mixed feelings about the epilogue, but have come to terms with it upon reflection, as it is not a typical ending, part happy, part tragic, but it tied things together well. I highly recommend it.
The initial, basic facts/details of the book are known: business and political dignitaries, including international opera star Roxanne Coss, have assembled at the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country to entice an opera-lover, Japanese CEO Mr. Hosohawa, to open a factory in their country, but are suddenly overrun by a heavily armed band including three older “generals” supported by a squad of young Indian peasants. However, they have terribly miscalculated: the president is not there. Instead of kidnapping one person, they are now forced to take hostage the forty most important attendees to leverage their demands with the current political powers.
Very conveniently, the narration never leaves the confines of the house and the interactions of hostages, guards, and an intrepid Red Cross intervener, who brings food and carries back demands. In addition, a heavy, rainy fog descends over the estate for several months, insulating the inhabitants from the sights and sounds of the street, and vice versa. The author scarcely touches upon the nature of the current political regime and its relationship to the people, whom this band of intruders claim to represent. The vice president is forced to admit to the generals that television soap operas are the top priority of the president ��" a piece of information with sobering implications for those with the slightest belief that any demands, regardless of merit, will be seriously considered.
What ensues over the next several months within the high walls of the estate is a compelling story of personal growth and development of a special community. There were some transforming incidents. The sudden death of a hostage from insulin shock dissolved the tough talk of the generals; they recognized some fundamental responsibility for the hostages. By far the most significant event was the recognition by Roxanne that her daily enthralling singing could create a pleasant mood capable of descending over the entire group with powerful effects. Within this closed, special setting, perhaps being freed from real-world considerations or recognizing that there would be no tomorrows for this group, many were opened to new experiences, ranging from finding unexpected love, discovering, developing, and using latent talents, or simply becoming more appreciative or accommodating of small pleasures and people.
The author, with subtle, precise language and insight, creates a place that becomes magical. Reminders do abound that this is a siege; that weapons can be invoked in a second; and that a disastrous resolution could occur at any time. But such awareness seems to recede month by month. It’s as though life is too precious to long for a previous version; new lives are being formed. Some hope or want to believe that this newfound community can continue forever, that time can be suspended. It is interesting that this small, self-contained community created under duress is a place where human passions flourish, exceeding previous boundaries. Ironically, the return of sunshine adds more to their lives, such as guards and hostages playing soccer games on the estate’s overgrown lawn, but there is scant realization that they are no longer hidden from insistent political forces outside the wall.
The book is not directly a political tract. But is a reminder of how power differentials can/do play out in a society. Inroads into the prerogatives of power are invariably resisted with whatever forces are available. It is another chapter in the age-old story of man’s inhumanity to man. But most of all, it is a book of the indomitable human spirit and our willingness to forge supportive communities in the face of impossible circumstances.
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