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Bel Canto
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message 1: by Susan (last edited Oct 09, 2012 09:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments So sorry for not getting this up promptly! Look for questions and comments soon. Meanwhile, please feel free to start the discussion among yourselves if you've already read the book or have read other works by Patchett.

While I prefer to wait until after I've read a book to delve into reviews and author bios, I'll paste a brief review and sketch here for those who prefer to work forward from there. I pulled these from LitLovers, my go-to source of info on the books I read.

Review:
As her readers now eagerly anticipate, Patchett (The Magician's Assistant) can be counted on to deliver novels rich in imaginative bravado and psychological nuance. This fluid and assured narrative, inspired by a real incident, demonstrates her growing maturity and mastery of form as she artfully integrates a musical theme within a dramatic story. Celebrated American soprano Roxane Coss has just finished a recital in the home of the vice-president of a poor South American country when terrorists burst in, intent on taking the country's president hostage. The president, however, has not attended the concert, which is a birthday tribute in honor of a Japanese business tycoon and opera aficionado. Determined to fulfill their demands, the rough, desperate guerrillas settle in for a long siege. The hostages, winnowed of all women except Roxane, whose voice beguiles her captors, are from many countries; their only common language is a love of opera. As the days drag on, their initial anguish and fear give way to a kind of complex domesticity, as intricately involved as the melodies Roxane sings during their captivity. While at first Patchett's tone seems oddly flippant and detached, it soon becomes apparent that this light note is an introduction to her main theme, which is each character's cathartic experience. The drawn-out hostage situation comes to seem normal, even halcyon, until the inevitable rescue attempt occurs, with astonishing consequences. Patchett proves equal to her themes; the characters' relationships mirror the passion and pain of grand opera, and readers are swept up in a crescendo of emotional fervor.
Publishers Weekly

Biographical Sketch:
Author Bio
• Birth—December 02, 1963
• Where—Los Angeles, California
• Education—B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A.,
University of Iowa, 1987
• Awards—Guggenheim Fellowship, 1995; PEN/Faulkner
Award, 2002; Orange Prize, 2002
• Currently—Nashville, Tennessee


Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles but raised in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she studied with such notable authors as Russell Banks and Grace Paley before getting her first short works published. She labored long and hard in the trenches of Seventeen magazine (where her talents went largely unrecognized), before striking gold with her ambitious first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of 1992 and subsequently made into a major motion picture.

Since her auspicious debut, Patchett has crafted a handful of elegant novels, garnering several accolades and awards along the way. But her real breakthrough occurred with 2001's Bel Canto, a taut, psychological thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of an embassy under siege in South America. Winning both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize, Bel Canto catapulted Patchett into the ranks of bestselling authors.

As if to prove her versatility, Patchett departed from fiction for 2004's Truth & Beauty, the heartbreaking account of her longstanding, difficult friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, a gifted writer whose disfigurement from cancer precipitated a tragic descent into addiction and death. This memoir won several literary awards and appeared on many end-of-year best books lists. Her novel, Run, follwed in 2007.

Success breeds success; and with each book, Patchett's reputation grows. Perhaps the secret to her popularity has been captured best by Patchett's friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. "She is a genius of the human condition," he says. "I can't think of many other writers, ever, who get anywhere near her ability to comprehend the vastness and diversity of humanity, and to articulate our deepest heart."

Extras
From a 2004 Barnes and Noble interview:

• In 1997, The Patron Saint of Liars was adapted into a TV movie, and Patchett also helped to write the screenplay for Taft, which was optioned by actor Morgan Freeman for a feature film.

• Patchett knew absolutely nothing about opera before writing Bel Canto; she began her research with Fred Plotkin's book Opera 101.

• She has never had a television.... she brushes her dog's teeth every morning.... After she received a pig for her ninth birthday, she hasn't eaten red meat since.

• When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is her response:

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow. "I think I read it in the tenth grade. My mother was reading it. It was the first truly adult literary novel I had read outside of school, and I read it probably half a dozen times. I found Bellow's directness very moving. The book seemed so intelligent and unpretentious. I wanted to write like that book." (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)


Tanya (mom's small victories) (momssmallvictories) I started reading Run by Ann Patchett (probably more than a year ago) but it didn't keep my attention before having to return it to the library so didn't finish it. I had started Bel Canto a week or two ago for my in person book club selection this month and I don't want to put it down. Too bad work and PTA duties are getting in the way of reading. I am enjoying this one, LOVE how this one started... with a kiss.


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Tanya (mom's small victories) wrote: "I started reading Run by Ann Patchett (probably more than a year ago) but it didn't keep my attention before having to return it to the library so didn't finish it. I had started Bel Canto a week o..."

Interesting comment, Tanya. I have yet to start the book and have never read anything else written by AnnPatchett. A friend gave me the book and this is a great opportunity to share the experience of reading it with others. I was going to raise the question about how Bel Canto fits wither other work, who she might be compared to, etc.


message 4: by Mackenzie, Group Read Curator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mackenzie | 295 comments Mod
Will be a little late on starting this one. I have to wait for it in the mail.


message 5: by Alison (new) - added it

Alison G. (agriff22) | 538 comments i finished my other book tonight, so I will start Bel Canto tomorrow. Im leary about reading a book about opera, but im trying to broaden my horizons and read different types of books this year. im not much of an opera fan. well see how it goes!


Mekerei | 204 comments Still waiting for this to arrive from The Book Depository. This is the downside to books that my library doesn't have and I can't get on my kindle :(


Melanie | 487 comments Hi all! I read this one a while back and remember really enjoying it! I look forward to your discussion.


Naomi V (naomi_v) | 509 comments i read this a while back. it was the first book by Ann Patchett that i'd read and i was enchanted by it. i'll have to see if i still have it in my library and if so, i'll be happy to read it again and participate in the discussion.


Eileen Rogers | 8 comments Read Bel Canto a couple of years ago and was enchanted. I. Tried a couple if her others and found them sort of flat and empty. I was about to give up on her when State of Wonder crossed my path. I would recommend it for anyone looking for another good Patchett


message 10: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate | 251 comments I'm about 95 pages in and absolutely captivated so far. I'm finding the lyricism of the book to be very moving - inconvenient when one tears up on the bus!


Chris (ChrisMD) | 408 comments I listened to this book several years ago and quite literally fell in love with it. It remains one of my two favorite audiobooks ever. I tried "Run" and I couldn't get into it either. Eventually gave up.


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Kate wrote: "I'm about 95 pages in and absolutely captivated so far. I'm finding the lyricism of the book to be very moving - inconvenient when one tears up on the bus!"

Kate,
I agree with your comments. What strikes me thus far, and I'm under 50 pages in, is the juxtaposition of operatic beauty with the depictions of poverty and violence. The contrasts are striking.


message 13: by Susan (last edited Oct 05, 2012 06:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Naomi wrote: "i read this a while back. it was the first book by Ann Patchett that i'd read and i was enchanted by it. i'll have to see if i still have it in my library and if so, i'll be happy to read it agai..."

The idea of enchantment seems to recur in descriptions of this book. Why do you think that is the case?


message 14: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate | 251 comments Susan wrote: "Why do you think that is the case? ."

It strikes me as a bit of magical realism. Guns, desperation, birthday parties, music - these are all very real things, but they're written about in such a way in Bel Canto that makes them seem ethereal.


Naomi V (naomi_v) | 509 comments Susan wrote: "The idea of enchantment seems to recur in descriptions of this book. Why do you think that is the case? ..."

the writing is so lovely. i think Kate summed it up well in her post just above mine. (it's been a while since i read it, so i can't be more specific.)


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Despite the danger, despite the uncertainty, despite everything, Patchett's writing evokes a sense of calm and serenity. When she enters into each of the character's thoughts, she retains that serenity remarkably well. Though surely people are afraid and experiencing panic, none of that comes through. Even the arrival of the police and the noise they create with their persistent intrusions into the silence of the room, it doesn't noticeably change anything. Do you think it would have been a more compelling read if Patchett had chosen dwell on those stronger and more understandable emotions rather than continuing her construction of an almost cocoon-like atmosphere?


message 17: by Susan (last edited Oct 05, 2012 11:25AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Susan (Chlokara) | 703 comments Susan wrote: "Despite the danger, despite the uncertainty, despite everything, Patchett's writing evokes a sense of calm and serenity. When she enters into each of the character's thoughts, she retains that ser..."

(Possibly a SPOILER alert, if you are not too far into the book). I am watching this post because I read Bel Canto many years ago, and LOATHED it. I am not at all a fan of Patchett's novels, and did not like RUN either, for similar reasons.

Susan, anent the auhor "retain[ing] that serenity . . .," she poses scenarios that could exist, but then treats them unrealistically. I found myself terribly annoyed when reading Bel Canto by the fact that no one who was being held hostage seemed the least bit annoyed. It was as if their former lives and relationships were just blanked out of their minds, and they set about forming a new society. I think the author is saying, "We could all get along if our positions in life were changed, and we could see the other side." All the others I knew who read this said, as if in a trance, "Oh, yes, how beautiful. I could really care about that man holding me hostage." To which I say, "*&^%&**!" I would be missing my husband, my dog, worrying about my mother worrying about me, worrying about my job, etc., and mad as hell! That was my reaction to the book.


message 18: by Susan (last edited Oct 06, 2012 04:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Susan wrote: "Susan wrote: "Despite the danger, despite the uncertainty, despite everything, Patchett's writing evokes a sense of calm and serenity. When she enters into each of the character's thoughts, she re..."

Susan, I'll wait to read and comment on your post til I've finished the book, but I did note that you LOATHED it! That's a powerful reaction, so now I'm curious to see if things take a surprising turn along the way. Just over 100 pages in now and I'm still fascinated by both the style and the substance of the story.


message 19: by Alison (new) - added it

Alison G. (agriff22) | 538 comments i cant get into this book... so its going back on my to read shelf and ill pick it up later.


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments I'm right at 200 pgs into the book at this point and wondered how everyone else is progressing. There are some points of discussion I'd like to raise but I don't want to spoil anything for my fellow readers.


Chris (ChrisMD) | 408 comments When my book club read it a number of years ago there was several people who didn't care for it. While it's been a while, I seem to remember they were together for a very extended period of time and that the connections between the hostages and the hostage takers took some time to form, so it wasn't like they were all getting along from the start. One thing that was never clear to me was what the terrorists had hoped to accomplish.


Ann A (Readerann) | 685 comments I read "Bel Canto" several years ago and loved it. I don't think it's too unusual for some type of bonding to form between captors and captives (i.e, the Stockholm Syndrome). I have to say I have been disappointed in Patchett's other novels. "Run" was o.k, but I didn't like "The Magician's Assistant" or "State of Wonder".


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Ann A wrote: "I read "Bel Canto" several years ago and loved it. I don't think it's too unusual for some type of bonding to form between captors and captives (i.e, the Stockholm Syndrome). I have to say I have b..."

Chris and Ann, these are the thoughts I was struggling with yesterday and I wasn't quite sure how to broach the topic with those who haven't gotten as far into the book. My concern is again largely about the apparent togetherness of everyone instead of anger, frustration, and even desperation one might expect from a group of hostages in a stalemate. It's as though the music and the singer have everyone mesmerized to the point that they can only focus on that and nothing else. Maybe that's a form of escapism, a way of surviving rather than facing reality?


message 24: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate (KateKSH) | 729 comments Hi all, I hope to join you -- Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. Just have to finish up the 3rd dragon tattoo book . . .


message 25: by Susan (last edited Oct 15, 2012 06:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments I finished the book tonight and, while I could see the end coming and I see that it was necessary, I was hoping I would be wrong. It was a fascinating read, lacking a strong protagonist and being instead more along the lines of an ensemble cast of characters. The world Patchett created seemed surreal and distant, almost idyllic in the end. As the reviews note, the narrative develops much like an operatic performance with nuances that keep the story alive. I'm surprised by the widely varied opinions of Patchett's work displayed here, but it doesn't prevent me from wanting to read more.


message 26: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate | 251 comments I was distracted from the book last week but am back at it now. I'm a little over 200 pages in, and a question I'd like to pose to the group is this: how is Roxanne all things to all people? True, she is the only female hostage left and that makes her unique. She's also an opera star. But she is fixated upon in such a way that I'm just not getting. It doesn't ring true to me that everyone is enthralled by her. As Susan says above, this seems to be an ensemble book without a clear protagonist, so maybe what makes Roxanne so desirable in so many ways to so many people has yet to be clearly drawn by the author. This is not to say that I don't enjoy the character of Roxanne, or the discussion of music and how the music makes other characters feel (I myself am an opera lover and have occasionally felt that feeling of transcendence or transportation during stirring performances/recordings). I'm just not quite getting what makes Roxanne so hypnotizing to the others.

I really am enjoying the book, and find it beautiful, and I am enjoying the characters. I am developing a real soft spot for sad General Benjamin, obstinate Beatriz and clever Gen.


Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Kate wrote: "I was distracted from the book last week but am back at it now. I'm a little over 200 pages in, and a question I'd like to pose to the group is this: how is Roxanne all things to all people? True, ..."

I had the same concerns about the irrationally strong power that Roxanne seemed to unwittingly wield among the group of hostages. All the men loved her in their own way and are drawn to both her physical beauty and the sound of her voice. The duration of the captivity should have put greater strains on everyone, but instead it seemed to lull them into a false sense of security and even to dream that things could continue as they were indefinitely. I hope that more of you readers are ready to bring your perspectives to the fore as we draw close to the end of the month.


message 28: by Barb (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barb | 76 comments I read this one a while ago, but if I remember correctly the book was inspired by an actual historic event.

**Possible spoilers ahead**

The Japanese embassy hostage crisis in 1996 was famous in part for a sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome (Lima Syndrome) in which the captors begin to sympathize with their captives. This might explain in part Patchett's exploration of unusual relationships and emotional attachments between the hostages and terrorists.


message 29: by Leanne (new) - added it

Leanne (belly-dancingbookworm) I am only 80 pages in, and so far I'm enjoying the book, but I've not been blown away by Patchett's style of writing. The character Roxanne is starting to annoy me - or it might be more that the reactions of the male characters are annoying me! Looking forward to reading on though.


Mekerei | 204 comments Leanne wrote: "... so far I'm enjoying the book, but I've not been blown away by Patchett's style of writing."

I understand what Leanne is saying. I haven't found this a read that I can't put down, or that it has me questioning the meaning of life. I have had a few thoughts about the novel:

Ann Patchett has used many different themes in this novel.

* The Vice President's Mansion is like an island where impossible things start to happen. Anne throws together different characters who normally wouldn't meet and allows the surreal situation to dictate how they interact with each other.

* I think the men love Coss for her singing, and her talent enthralls them. Roxanne Coss says, “If someone loves you for what you can do, then it’s flattering . . . but if they love you for who you are, they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”

* Without Gen Watanabe there would be little communication between the different characters. Both Hostages and Terrorists realise that language separates them and Gen is in constant demand. I think that he is a metaphor for how difficult it is to translate our thoughts into words.


message 31: by Susan (last edited Oct 30, 2012 11:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan (SusanThomas) | 163 comments Mekerei wrote: "Leanne wrote: "... so far I'm enjoying the book, but I've not been blown away by Patchett's style of writing."

I understand what Leanne is saying. I haven't found this a read that I can't put down..."


Thank you for these insights, Mekerei! It's a great way to wind down this discussion and leaves us a lot to think about as we continue to reflect on the book.

My parting shots are about connections and barriers...a wall or fence can separate or connect the people on either side, and we see how the division begins to unravel as the gifts of music and language begin to draw people into a tightly knit group despite their resistance.

I was disappointed in the ending, but overall, I rate this a strong 4 stars plus for what Patchett was able to accomplish through her own gift of language.


Naomi V (naomi_v) | 509 comments the ending surprised me; even though the ending is given away at the very beginning of the book. but Patchett had me so engrossed that i had forgotten.


Mekerei | 204 comments Susan wrote: "I was disappointed in the ending, ..."

Naomi wrote: "the ending surprised me;"

The sad fact is that once the real world decided that the hostage situation had gone on long enough there was only one way for it to end. I knew that this was going to be the outcome, but the romantic inside me still hoped for the impossible.


message 34: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate | 251 comments SPOILERS BELOW. Kind of.


I was really surprised that Roxanne wasn't one of the fatalities. I felt certain that the way she was being built up was a harbinger of her tragic end. I really thought this was going to a "To Kill a Mockingbird" situation, where the mockingbird is a beautiful opera star who unites various factions through music.


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