Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

"Music conveys moods and images.
Even in opera, where plots deal with the
structure of destiny, it's music, not words,
that provides power."
Marcel Marceau

Sometimes when you choose a book for a book discussion, you never know how it will go over. I have chosen books and thought I would have a nice size group, and hardly anyone showed up; I have chosen books that I think won't fly~~and it's a hit!

When I chose Bel Canto, I was curious: how was a book about hostages, terrorists, South America and opera go over. The night of the book discussion was a nasty, rainy, chilly night...if I hadn't had to go out I would have stayed home curled up with a good book. Imagine my surprise when fifteen hardy readers showed up!

Great questions; would terrorists really hold hostages for over four months? If you don't speak the same language, can you fall in love with each other? How come the government didn't do something sooner? Would hostages and terrorists form bonds with each other like is described in the book? Would someone really refuse to leave when offered the chance? Does music really sooth the savage beast (terrorists)?

In Bel Canto, we have people from all over the world attending a birthday party for a high powered Japanese CEO. The only way they were able to get him to attend was they had his favorite opera singer, Roxanne Coss, performing. When the terrorists appear and  make it known that they are there to kidnap the president of the country...they are shocked to find out that he decided to stay home and watch his favorite soap opera instead of coming to the party....which gave us all a chuckle. The terrorists, having over two hundred hostages, decided to let the women, children and sick hostages go, but not before one of the hostages had died. That left forty-nine male hostages, and one female, Roxanne Coss.

We felt that because of the death of the one hostage, the others formed a silent bond among themselves  not to attempt to escape. They didn't want any of the others death on their conscience. The bonds formed between some of the hostages and the terrorists seemed to come about because of the age of the terrorists. Except for the three generals, the dozen or so terrorists were all young. They could have been someones son, daughter, grandchild..not these gun slinging "babies."

When Roxanne Coss found one of her fellow hostages played the piano, she began to practice everyday. We talked about the description of when she sang, time seemed to stand still, even the birds stopped singing to listen to her. Even the terrorists sat and listened captured in the rapture of her singing.

We talked about who was the core character? Roxanne, as the only woman? Was it Gen, the translator who could speak almost all the languages of the hostages? Was it Mr. Hosokawa, whose birthday party it was when all this happened? One group member thought it was Roxanne Coss, which led to  quite a lively discussion. Not everyone agreed, one of my group said quite pointedly, "Well, Ma'am, I disagree with you!"  He felt it was Gen because he could communicate with everyone...some of the group nodded in agreement. Then some of the group pointed out that when Roxanne sang, everything stopped. Everyone walked into the room when she sang, hostages and terrorists alike, outside, the police stopped yelling through the bullhorns and, as Patchett describes, the birds stopped singing, even the wind seemed to stop. While Gen could communicate with everyone, Roxanne communicated to everyone through opera.  (That's why I picked the quote at the top...it fits perfectly with this book.)

We all agreed that the book stayed on a level tone until the last three pages. The ending was not what some of us expected. Some felt we would have liked more of an ending, more closure.

I love when a book surprises me, and when it brings so much out in people. A good book,  a great group and a good discussion~~one of our best as a matter of fact.

***Bel Canto is loosely based on a event that happened in the late sixties in Lima, Peru where terrorists took over a house and kept hostages for over four months. (There was no opera singer.)

Happy Reading!

No comments: