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review 2017-07-01 04:05
Book Review: Bel Canto
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

Book: Bel Canto


Author: Ann Patchett


Genre: Fiction/Based on Real Events


Summary: Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in the honor of the powerful businessman, Mr. Hosokawa. 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 takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots. 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. - Harper Collins, 2001.


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review 2016-06-06 00:00
Bel Canto
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett Reading this book is like going on a date with someone who is perfectly appropriate, but not enticing. It has all the elements of a good book: The writing is beautiful, sometimes to the point where it is called magical realism (I'm not so sure about that). The keen observations on human nature are there. I got the message of hostages and terrorists creating unexpected bonds, of finding beauty among repression, of art being an escape to reality...

I got it.

I just didn't like it.

It was only in the last third of the book that I actually got attached to some characters, and it prepared me to have the right emotions at the heartbreaking end. I gave the book an extra star for that.

I got disappointed at the Epilogue, it was beautiful, but a little contrived and there was a certain development that needed more explanation. For a work of such emotional complexity, it fell behind. Overall, I thought this book was very well executed, but a little too perfect, too artificial, like it was a huge exercise on writing well. It didn't feel honest.
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review 2014-05-17 14:36
Book Review of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

That was the scenario for Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

I heard her interviewed on the Book Lust podcast last year and the host was asking Ms. Patchett questions about her latest novel, State of Wonder, when the host mentioned to the author that Bel Canto was one of her favorite novels. The host’s genuine enthusiasm about Bel Canto changed the entire interview and I sensed that Ms. Patchett appreciated her passion for that novel.  I knew I would read and review Bel Canto after that interview.

Bel Canto was loosely based on the Lima Hostage Crisis of December 1996. Where members of a revolutionary guerrilla movement took hostage of high-level diplomats, government and military officials, and business executives who were attending a party at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru, Morihisa Aoki, in celebration of Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday.

Ms. Patchett’s version left the country unnamed and the birthday party was for a wealthy businessman, Mr. Hosokawa. The home belonged to the vice president of this unnamed South American country and the hook of the novel revolved around Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano who performed at birthday party per request by Mr. Hosokawa. The businessman loved opera and the only reason he would have came to this unnamed country because his favorite opera singer was performing at the party.

The guerrilla fighters took hostage of the residence because they thought the president of the unnamed country would be attendance for the birthday party. And if they could have taken the president as a hostage, all of their demands for freedom and overthrowing the government would be realized. However, the president did not attend the birthday party and they decided to keep everyone else as hostages.

The strength of Bel Canto was the characters and their interaction with each other under this extreme situation. Patchett created a colorful, multicultural cast of characters (Russians, Italians, Americans, Japanese, Swedes, & Germans) that grabbed my attention and made it a fascinating read.

Roxanne Coss was definitely a “diva” in a stereotypical sense but after an incident early in their captivity, she began to reveal a warmth to her personalty that belied her ‘world renowed opera singer’ persona. Mr. Hosowoka grew as well and learned the meaning of love in an entire new way. Even of the some guerrilla fighters showed their humanity and reading the story made you hope for a different outcome to their eventual fate.

Most of all, Bel Canto was a romance novel in the best sense of that genre. It seemed that the novelist was asking the question,does love really conquer all?  I would write that Patchett gave a definitive answer to that question in this story.  But, I didn’t quite agree with it.

That will not stop me from writing from how much I enjoyed reading Bel Canto and would recommend the novel be added to your reading piles and discussed at your book clubs.

I’m pleased that Bel Canto chose me to read and review this fascinating story of crisis, opera, and ultimately of love and romance.

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text 2014-04-15 22:05
Thematic paths: musicians (December 2013 - February 2014)
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Mozart's Sister - Rita Charbonnier
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Lettere alla cugina - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Loser - Thomas Bernhard,Jack Dawson
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

I started months ago a sort of personal challenge with 3-months thematich pats. The first has been the one on musicians: reading books about musicians or in which at least one of the character plays an instrument or sing, in other words, fiction and non-fiction related in some way to people doing music.  

The first candidate has been A visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan.  Bennie Salazar, one of the many characters of the book, is inserted in music industry, although he's not enjoying it so much when we meet him, showing a very nostalgic attitude towards the past musical tendecies in his youth, when, in addition, he had a band too. Relating to this book was like going in a seesaw: my emotional disposition has changed among light indifference, sudden love, diplomatic or, sometimes, hearty and trustful friendship and surprisingly light indifference again. This has to do with the structure: changing setting, time and character too in every story of the mosaic. My disorganic appreciation depends very much on it: some "short stories" were really great (like "Safari", or "Goodbye, My Love", "Great Rock and Roll Pauses"), others have not fascinated me ("Pure Language" for example). 

I liked very much how Egan has proposed the idea of time in her character's lives, particulary in how we change during our time and how often this changes imply decisions that the old-self would have denigrated, those tiny compromises sowed in our life which carry us to our actual person and situation. 

I'm eager to read other books by her, she surely has talent. 

Then I've read two books about Mozart's life: Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier and a collection of Letters to her cousin. He's surely a character, I mean..

"Wouldn't you like to visit Herr Gold-smith again?—but what for?—what?—nothing!—just to inquire, I guess, about the Spuni Cuni fait, nothing else, nothing else?—well, well, all right. Long live all those who, who—who—who—how does it go on?—I now wish you a good night, shit in your bed with all your might, sleep with peace on your mind, and try to kiss your own behind; I now go off to never-never land and sleep as much as I can stand. Tomorrow we'll speak freak sensubly with each other. Things I must you tell a lot of, believe it you hardly can, but hear tomorrow it already will you, be well in the meantime. Oh my ass burns like fire! what on earth is the meaning of this!—maybe muck wants to come out? yes, yes, muck, I know you, see you, taste you—and—what's this—is it possible? Ye Gods!—Oh ear of mine, are you deceiving me?—No, it's true—what a long and melancholic sound!—today is the write I fifth this letter. Yesterday I talked with the stern Frau Churfustin, and tomorrow, on the 6th, I will give a performance in her chambers, as the Furstin-Chur said to me herself. Now for something real sensuble!"  (One of the Letters)

 A prankster! Who would suspect it, if not informed.. Even Charbonnier's novel about her sister paints him like a sort of divinally gifted libertine, who messes up several lives without care. Her sister's life, for example, because she's not a fictional character at all, she really existed. Nannerl Mozart had musical ambitions during yer youth, but fatally she had the misfortune of being obscured by a celebrated genius and a father totally engaged in building his fame. So, this is the story of a slow and progressive surrender to a dream, with much pain, silent endurance and jealousy stirred with brotherly love. 

The book is good, except for some rushed executions in the psychological developments of the second part. 

Then I've read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, in which a secondary character is a pianist. It's a fascinating book, particulary for the main character, Edna. She has an evocative, sinous beauty, but what she do for being so fascinating is the same amount of actions which can't be shared at all for me. She's extremely free and indipendent from any tie, cruel exactly for this reason. She fascinates and distances at the same time: I would never accept a person like Edna in my life. So I understand her, but I don't approve her actions. It's a great book anyway, maybe it's great precisely for all these reasons together. 

In my mission (opening myself to YA) I've inserted The Sky is Everywhere too. Lennie is a misfortuned teenager who discover herselves through love and music (he plays clarinet) in a new intimate birth after the grief for her older sister, Baley. It was not bad at all, moving, particulary for Lennie's grief, although Lennie's life seems to rotate only on her sentimental interests, even with male characters who seem to burst out from those hughe cakes like the one of Singin in the Rain, given the idyllic profiles. 

Then I came back to a loved author, Ian McEwan, with Amsterdam. Less than the the other two I read by him, Sweet Tooth and Atonement. At the centre of the story there is a sort of face-off between Vernon, a journalist; and Clive, a narcisissist composer, through the death of Molly Lane, who has been close to them, and a scoop about Julian, a famous politician. More cinic, ironically colder, less focused on feelings than Atonement for example, but also duller, less powerful than the other two generally, who were truly loose cannons in this sense. Not bad, I'd say, but it has not gained from me the same enthusiastic partecipation, only a tepid appreciation. 

In comparison with Cloud Atlas, Amsterdam is a remarkable experience

I didn't even finished it, I've tried hard, but really: at 150 pages to the end I said no, I've had enough. I understood that I was wasting my time. Extremely boring at the first story, then a little better but unsustainable in the long term. Totally uninteresting for me and I don't find the structure so brilliant, the technique of cross references was badly used. 

I've read it because of this pianist in one of the stories, Luise, but he wasn't really worth the dramatic endurance. 

A dramatic but worthwile book is The Loser. Simply dramatic? Depressing, oppressive, gloomy. And I believe that! What atmosphere do you expect from a depressed loser? In fact the book shows again a confrontation among three musicians, but Glenn Gould - the classic genius - is destined to win without effort. The effort, if need be, is the one of the other two: the main voice will leave music world to undertake a career as a poor intellectual (philosopher) and Wertheimer, the real protagonist, is the looser. Gould will instill in him a feeling of inferiority which will degenerate in a destructive obsession for the rest of his life. It's disturbing for the whole range of the typical feelings and behaviors of a loser: shameful, inglorious I'd say but pitful. Full of self-compassion and clumsiness. One of the most undesiderable state of mind for a man, I think. 

Bernhard really knows how to describe this kind of man, but really, he's really burdensome to follow. I'll probably read other books by him.

And the last but not least: Bel Canto. An enjoyable read! I didn't expect a fully accurate historical book, like others did, but only a possibly good book of fiction. In fact if we pause on this aspect, critics would prosper. It's fictionalized, essentialy optimistic, surprisingly against the tide of a dystopian degeneration (in situations like these). So optimistic in this sense as becoming utopian (a cohabitation among fifty individuals can't be so tender). But it's clear that the entire book is an ode to love (and the ennobling power of music through one of the main characters, who is a opera singer), and I've appreciated its way of doing it. 

I perceived it as an emotional story.

The ending was totally improper though. 


Taking stock, the most appreciated are the last two and also Chopin's book and parts of Egan's one. The subject of musicians seems to trace a common idea of music as intimate discovery of oneself, in which a dejected heart (and soul) can revive, not simply console itself. A beautiful concept.

But music world, for example, can be seen also as an umerciful battlefield full of harsh competitions, like in Amsterdam, Mozart's Sister and The Looser. Often the main characters seems destined to succumb or otherwise loose an ethical code in the way.

But I'd say that this belongs to many sectors, not only creative but also financial, economic, and so on. So it's not particulary surprising. :P

It has been absolutely interesting! I'd like to see Amadeus by Milos Forman and I have to the VHS here at home, so I'll do it sooner or later, given that I love cinema. :)

What will come next in this section of thematic paths? ....Who knows..;)

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review 2013-10-11 21:55
Bel Canto
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett I was positively mesmerized by this from the first page. The story concerns an international group of party-goers gathered in a unnamed fictional South American country to hear a star opera singer, Roxane Coss, singing in honor of Katsumi Hosokawa, head of a major Japanese corporation. They're taken hostage by a terrorist group who had hoped to kidnap the president of the country--who, as it happens, wasn't present because he couldn't miss his favorite soap opera. After releases early on, a core group of 40 hostages remain for months--Roxane the only woman--along with the 18 terrorists. Besides the above, they include Gen Watanabe, a translator; Father Arguedas, a priest who refused to leave the hostages; and the Vice President, Ruben Iglesias, among others. I quickly came to care about those characters and their fates--even about some of the terrorists: especially the the two girl soldiers, Beatriz, who explores her faith, and Carmen, who finds love, as well as two young boys--Ismael, who teaches himself chess, and Cesar, who discovers a gift of singing. The book is written in omniscient but Patchett doesn't let you keep your distance, and somehow I can't imagine this written any other way. Yes, there's more than a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to this tale but there's more to it--a startlingly warm and romantic book considering its subject. Yes, Roxane could be seen as Mary Sue--but the whole point of the gathering was her celebrity, her gift. Given that and her status as the only female hostage kept, one can forgive the author making so many around her more than a bit in love with her. It might help that I'm an opera fan, because the ability of music to bond people of disparate backgrounds and different languages is definitely a major theme. After reading this I had an itch to listen again to Dvořák and Puccini.
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