Friday, July 8, 2011

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Beachreader)

Title:  Bel Canto
Author:  Ann Patchett
Published:  2001, Harper Collins
Genre:  Literary Fiction
Accolades:  2002 Orange Prize, 2002 Pen/Faulkner Award, 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction shortlist

In this lyrical and beautifully written novel Ann Patchett has created a story based loosely on an actual hostage situation in Peru in 1996.  In an unnamed South American country diplomats and the wealthy are gathering in the home of the vice president to hear an international opera singer perform at the birthday party of a powerful Japaneses businessman.  During the party terrorists storm the home and take everyone hostage.  What begins as a horrendously difficult and frightening situation slowly turns bearable as days turn into weeks turn into months and terrorists and hostages find the humanity in each other in order to survive the ordeal.

I am going to come right out and say it - I have a few quibbles with this book.  I can not deny that Patchet is an amazing weaver of words and the book is rich with descriptive passages;

"She stared hard into the darkness of her eyes, the place where she knew the sins stacked up like kindling, dry and ready for a fire."  page 247, Bel Canto


What I had a hard time with was suspending belief.  I don't know if its post 9-11, but I couldn't feel sympathy towards the terrorists which made it difficult to believe or even understand some of the events that occur in the book. The plot of the book is interesting, the idea that when people are trapped together even under vicious circumstances they create their own universe to help make sense of the chaos and stress that fear can induce, but there had to be someone out of all those hostages who would have at least plotted an escape - the idea wasn't even suggested (unless I missed it).

The other problem I had with the book was the epilogue. I felt it was just tacked on as an after thought.  The ending would have been more powerful if the book had stopped before the epilogue (I can't really go into detail why with out spoiling the story).

Patchett's characterization is brilliant. She captured how our culture plays an integral role in shaping who we are and it was interesting watching how the characters overcame their differences in order to survive.  I kept reading the book because there were several characters that I really liked and I wanted to know if they "made it out alive."  If you are a fan of Patchett's you will enjoy this is well-written story. 

My Rating Guide:  3 out of 5

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