Bel Canto
Grade : A-

I read Bel Canto years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, after giving it to my best friend and recommending it to lots of people, I used it as the first discussion book for my book club. Needless to say, I think this is a book that people should read. It’s very well-written and thought-provoking and will sit on my shelf for years to come.

In the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country, a birthday party is being thrown for Japanese business tycoon Mr. Hosokawa. The host country is hoping that Mr. Hosokawa will open one of his factories there and provide a much-needed boost to their economy. But Mr. Hosokawa is only at his party for one reason, to watch famous opera singer Roxane Coss perform. Many other international dignitaries and businessmen are in attendance, all with their own motives, and the evening is a hit until the end of the program. After Roxane finishes her last song, the lights go off, but the guests aren’t concerned as they’re still caught in the rapture of her singing. Things change dramatically when the lights come back on and men and boys with guns rush through the house.

The roughly two hundred guests are made to lie down on the floor in their formal attire while the terrorists go through the group looking for the president. When it becomes apparent that the president is not there, things become more confusing. The goal of the terrorists was to enter, grab the president, and leave quickly. Without the president, they don’t know what to do, and now they have lots of hostages without the leverage they had anticipated. A man named Messner from the Red Cross comes to the door after several hours and begins negotiations. First, the women are released. As Roxane Coss is leaving, however, one of the terrorist generals detains her and she becomes the only woman to stay behind on what will be a long standoff. Next, the less important men are released and in the end there are forty hostages of varying importance and their eighteen captors.

What unfolds is a beautifully written story of how relationships grow between hostages and terrorists alike. Though the book is not lengthy, many different points of view are given and in such a way that you truly come to know many different characters. The power and beauty of music is discussed often. Roxane was kept behind because the terrorists wanted her to sing for them. The music moves everyone present and many of the men fall in love with her through her gift. The household settles into a routine as the weeks and months begin to stretch out. People take on roles they never would have in the real world, but by the final pages they are thriving.

Love also blossoms through the hardship, which in the end isn’t hardship at all. Many of the occupants of the house start to imagine that this is their life now and it will go on indefinitely. And quite a few are not bothered by that idea. It seems as if every character, rather than deteriorating in such confinement and circumstances, begins to grow and progress as they never would have on the outside. You start to care for all the characters, so the ending is rather sad. You can imagine how it turns out; governments do not negotiate with terrorists. In fact, you’re told on the thirteenth page how it will end, yet hope springs eternal. Since I’m a romantic first and foremost, the ending and epilogue are distressing to me, but despite that I still truly enjoy this book.

Bel Canto is one of those stories that really shouldn’t be missed. It is so well-written, almost lyrical, which makes sense given the title and musical theme. It’s also a book that makes one think. After reading it, I had to find people who had also done so, because I wanted to discuss it in depth. Give it a try; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Reviewed by Andi Davis
Grade : A-
Book Type: Fiction

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : September 8, 2009

Publication Date: 2001

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