Sep 092008
Authors: kelly bleck

A president at home watching his favorite soap opera, a party thrown to bribe an electronics executive and one famous opera singer are the ingredients used to create a new civilization in “Bel Canto.”

When a terrorist organization takes the South American vice president’s party hostage, a strange bond develops between the hostages and their takers. In “Bel Canto,” author Ann Patchett explores that relationship, as well as the connections between different countries that are forged in a stressful situation.

The story is a version of an actual event that happened in 1994, where a party was invaded and the hostages lived with the terrorists for four months. The vice president of a small South American country is throwing the party for Mr. Hosokawa, an influential electronics executive in Japan. The vice president is hoping to bribe Mr. Hosokawa into building an electronics factory in the country.

Mr. Hosokawa is a music lover, so the famous opera singer Roxanne Coss is brought in to sway his opinion. As the story starts with Roxanne singing, terrorists invade in the hopes of kidnapping the president, who is rumored to be attending.

However, in an event that inevitably irritates the terrorists, the president chose to miss the party for his soap opera.

This puts the vice president in a precarious position, and Patchett explores the reaction and decisions of the vice president.

He adopts new responsibilities when faced with the anger of the terrorists, and Patchett analyzes his personality change effectively.

Patchett explores the inner-workings of her characters, originally portraying them with certain characteristics and mentalities, only to make them expand with the stressful situation.

Because of the language barrier between the partygoers themselves, as well as between partygoers and terrorists, solace is found in Roxanne’s singing, as it is something all characters can understand and enjoy.

Roxanne becomes a dynamic figure as the story escalates. Her singing abilities are portrayed in the title, which means “beautiful singing.” The singing joins the people in the household, and Patchett portrays the changes they all undergo with detail and originality.

Mr. Hosokawa’s translator, at first a shy and uncertain man, is now turned to as a source of information. Because he knows so many languages, he becomes the interpreter for the party. This new attention turns him into a confident man.

Patchett explores the transformations that characters go through, generating a different view than what would previously have been expected. Because the characters were stereotyped as certain personalities, their change in such an unexpected situation is, in itself, unexpected.

The way Patchett escalates the story makes it develop from a terrifying predicament to one filled with learning, love and even happiness.

Patchett’s descriptions make the scenes come to life, causing the reader to put themselves in the position of the partygoers. Within the house, a new civilization is created the longer the hostages are kept. They develop relationships with the terrorists despite the belief that the hostages should be terrified and uncomfortable.

This version of writing is a rare one because most terrorist situations are considered from a point of view of terror and violence.

As Patchett focuses on the bonds created between characters, her descriptions develop humanity within the situation, changing the light and the overall aura of the novel.

Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at

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