Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Forays in Fiction: Bel Canto--Review & Read-a-Long

Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett

This is in conjunction with the read-a-long at Bookjourney

Although I am making this my Friday post I am beginning work on it very close to midnight and will be surprised if I post before dawn as I'm still reading--just passed halfway point.

I decided that it would be a good idea to start the post now anyway for several reasons--it will give me some place to drop quotes and thots as I read; gathering the jigsaw pieces of the post will give me some something to do that both keeps my mind in the story and allows me to take occasional breaks relaxing the focus of my mind from the intensity of the narrative and of my eyes from the tarantella of the fonts.

Besides I've already got plenty to say about this story even if I were to post this before reading another word.

Let's begin with what the novel itself began with:


I don't know if this was the particular song the character of Roxane Coss was singing but it is from the same Opera--Rusalka.  I'll be listening as I read.

That music puts shivers in my soul in the same manner as does Patchett's prose when she hits notes like this one:

She was as silent as light on the leaves of trees.

or this one:

Gen exchanged their sentences like a bank teller pushing stacks of currency back and forth over a smooth marble countertop.
I've collected over a dozen of those to return to and savor like exquisite chocolate truffles.

In the presence of prose like that I am much like the characters of Carmen, Father Arguedas, and Mr. Hosokawa in the presence of Roxane--full of awe and gratitude.

So then, a bit about the story itself.  It's set in an unnamed South American country where a birthday party is being held for a Japanese mogul they are hoping will open a branch of his company there.  Mr. Hosokawa has no intention of operating his business in their unstable nation so has turned down many such invitations before but this time they lure him with the one thing he can't resist--a recital of opera songs sung by his favorite soprano, Roxane Coss.

The party is held at the Vice President's mansion and though the President himself had promised to attend he pleaded national security business at the last minute in order to stay home and watch his favorite soap opera. Which is how he avoided being kidnapped by the terrorists who infiltrated the mansion through the air-conditioning ducts as the last notes of the last song linger in the air.

Deprived of their target they instead hold the entire household hostage amounting to some two hundred including businessmen, diplomats, politicians, their spouses, the Vice President's family, two priests and the staff.  The following day with the help of a Red Cross negotiator they let all but a few dozen highest value individuals leave including the staff and all women but one--the soprano herself.  And then the 58 souls remaining--including the three 'Generals' and their dozen or so rag-tag teen 'soldiers' settle in for what is to become a several months standoff with the authorities and their own spit-polished young soldiers surrounding the walled estate.

Gen, Mr. Hosakawa's personal translator is soon depended upon by all for the communication of everything from mundane minutia to profound declarations, to nerve wracking negotiations between the English speaking Roxane, the French Diplomat, the Japanese and Russian businessmen, the Spanish speaking VP and terrorists, and the Swedish speaking Red Cross negotiator.  Besides which he is tutoring his boss in Spanish and Carmen, one of the teenaged terrorists, in reading and writing the Spanish she already speaks as the two of them fall in love.

When, a couple of weeks into the captivity, Roxane begins practicing her singing daily, music becomes yet another language but one for which Gen's services are not needed for it is understood by all.

The household, enveloped in a heavy mist for weeks, seems like a microcosm of the world itself held in a limbo outside of time.


[OK it is now after 9am my time and I'm still several dozens of pages out but Shelia's post has just gone up which I'm going to take as my excuse to go ahead and post what I have here so I can add my link.  I've still got so much to say so I'm going to reserve the right to update this post later.]

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