Susanita (bardhlul) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Book 1 for 2014 - Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry...

I was able to puzzle out fairly quickly the country where the story takes place, but in many ways that doesn't particularly matter. The setting mainly served to provide a situation in which disparate characters were unexpectedly thrown together and had to find creative ways to communicate and cooperate. Key to this story was Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's translator, and we see much (but certainly not all) of the story through his point of view; his ability with multiple languages facilitates much of the action, but at the same time he comes to regret and resent his fellow captors' and the insurgents' dependence on him, and he has his own stake in the outcome of the situation.

What the terrorists had planned as a quick strike turns into a long and drawn-out affair, and everyone in the house is essentially a captive in one way or another. At the same time, many of the characters settle easily into this different routine and lifestyle, almost as if in a dream world. Though they are from radically different backgrounds and experiences, the captives begin to form bonds with each other and with the kidnappers. In addition to Gen's tireless translation efforts, another medium of communication is music, which also comes to the fore in surprising and unexpected ways.

Though I initially had a little trouble getting into the story - aside from the invasion itself, the pace is somewhat leisurely - as I read further I felt like the characters in that I didn't want it to end. Nonetheless, the ending is bittersweet but satisfying.
Tags: fiction, music

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