Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I have never read a book like this before.

The story opens at a party in an unspecified South American country. The guests include Japanese businessmen, French diplomats, the vice-president of the host country (the president didn’t attend the party because he had to watch his soaps), and the opera singer Roxane Coss. During the party, terrorists invade the house and take all two hundred guests hostage. The terrorists came for the president, and since he’s not there, decided to keep the guests hostage in the vice-president’s mansion until their demands are met.

The guests are held hostage in the house for four months. During that time, escape is difficult, but definitely not impossible, but no one tries to leave. And really, why would they? They’re trapped in a mansion with food delivered daily by the police outside the walls, watched over by surprisingly civilized terrorists (most of whom are about fifteen years old), with a Swiss negotiator outside who bring them soap and newspapers. One of the hostages is a translator who’s fluent in every language spoken by the assorted international hostages, and they have a woman who sings opera for them every day.

The desriptions in the book were beautiful, especially when the author describes Roxane Coss singing. In fact, this book was largely instrumental in getting me interested in opera (that and Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck). The story is unique and surprisingly touching, and I really enjoyed it. The ending was the only part of the book I didn’t absolutely love, because the story kind of falls apart when the hostage situation does. Everything else about the story is beautiful in the most unexpected way.

Verdict: four out of five stars


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