Jen's Reviews > Bel Canto

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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Sep 03, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: uber-books
Recommended for: anyone
Read in February, 2004

When my husband and I were traveling in Central and South America in 1996-97, MRTA insurgents took hostage hundreds of people at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru. They held hostages for four months while we backpacked from Guatemala to Argentina, and we often marveled at how many experiences we were having while those poor hostages waited in terror for rescue - which came! President Fujimori's army raided the place and killed all of the terrorists (and only one hostage), and pictures of him grinning and waving the flag were all over the place. Just before the raid, we hiked the Inca Trail with an employee of the Chilean embassy in Peru, who'd been invited to the party but didn't go for some reason. He would've been a hostage if he'd gone. It was crazy to consider.

Years later, my Colorado book club assigned Bel Canto. I didn't know what it was about, but my heart skipped a beat once I started reading and realized that Patchett wrote the book based on that very hostage crisis (I read something later that confirmed this). She used the crisis to imagine what sort of relationships were forged during the long months, and she imagined a community not of hatred and fear, but of love and understanding - not just between the hostages, but between the hostages and terrorists. It is compassionate, lyrically written, and deeply moving.
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