I found this book for a $1 at last year’s library book sale and it has sat in on my “to-be-read” list ever since. In the meantime, I read last year’s captivating State of Wonder, by the author and finally last month it was time to taste another of Patchett’s unique flavor of magical realism.
Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country and begins the night of a Japanese businessman’s birthday bash at the Vice-Presidential mansion. The star of the night is Roxanne Coss, a famous American opera singer with whom Mr. Hosokawa, the businessman being wooed by the government of said country, is well, a bit obsessed. When revolutionaries storm the mansion and take the crowd hostage, the story turns into a tragicomic story of love found in the oddest of places.
Like State of Wonder, the novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The characters, from the youngest, lowliest guerrilla fighter to the vice-president, to an international array of businessmen, to the generals who have gotten themselves and their people into this mess, without an exception they are captivated by the American singer. But what captivated me, more, was the way the novel unexpectedly turned into a love story between the Japanese polyglot interpreter and a smart but quiet female guerrilla.
Patchett has a way of humanizing every character, giving them a detailed and fleshed-out history in just a page or two. We sympathize and empathize with all of the characters caught in an obvious no-win situation. Like the novels players, I wished that the book continued on and on as they loved and learned from each other. And though little attention is actually given in the novel to flesh out the desperation of the terrorists, that they would commit such acts as kidnapping, we know that in the end the government will always win.
Now to that ending. Without spoiling, I will say that there is an epilogue that feels tacked on and completely out of place with the rest of the novel. Unfortunately, once read you know it is there. I would like, however, to think of the novel ending before this. Even before the last few pages in the final chapter. That these characters still live in that limbo, dream-state where music, sport, learning and love reign free.