Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Thursday, January 21, 2016
In an unnamed South American country, the government is hosting a birthday party for a powerful Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa. Mr. Hosokawa has no intention of building a factory in the poor country, but when they told him that his favorite opera soprano, Roxanne Coss, would be performing for him, he had to accept the invitation. Just as Roxanne finishes her last song, armed revolutionaries take the entire party hostage.
I liked this a lot more than I expected to. That description makes the book sound like something it isn't. It isn't about the politics of the country or anything like that; it's about the people and the possibilities within them. There isn't much action but there is a lot of character development and relationship building.
The revolutionaries consist of three "generals" and a group of teenagers they've found and trained in the jungle. The teenagers are mostly uneducated and they've never been given a real chance at life. As time passes, it turns out that there are some amazingly talented youngsters in the group. Even the group of businessmen and politicians discover and nurture their hidden talents and passions now that they have time away from their everyday responsibilities.
The relationships that grow among these groups who should be enemies are amazing. They all come from wildly different backgrounds but they come together and find their common ground. The elders, even among the hostages, come to view the young revolutionaries fondly, almost as younger family members or children. Among the adults, the timid priest, the opera singer, the translator, the businessmen, all bond in unforeseen ways.
The narrator, Anna Fields, did an amazing job. She didn't worry too much about different voices for different characters, but she did give the impossible accents a phenomenal try. She didn't only have to tackle straightforward Spanish or Japanese accents, she tackled the accents of a Swiss man speaking Spanish or a Spanish-speaker attempting Japanese. I was hugely impressed.
I highly recommend this if you enjoy character-driven books but don't go into it expecting a lot of action.
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