This book has been on my to-read list for years and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. Bel Canto revolves around a party in an unnamed country (though most likely in Central or South America) where various dignitaries and government representatives from the host country and from around the world have been invited. The party is to celebrate the birthday of Japanese businessman, Katsumi Hosokawa, in the hopes he’ll build a factory in the country. Hosokawa isn’t much interested in building a factory; what got him to the party is the presence of his favourite opera singer, Roxane Coss, who has been specially hired for the evening.
On the first page of the novel, the party is overthrown by terrorists who wish to kidnap the President. However, the President is not there. Instead, the terrorists hold the party goers hostage and the plot follows their months of captivity. Despite language and socio-economic barriers, friendships flourish between the most unlikely of characters.
The strength of this novel really lies in Patchett’s ability to get inside her characters and the passion with which she writes. I’ve never been much interested in opera, but as Patchett describes it through her characters, my interest was piqued.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the last 30 or so pages when Patchett gets a bit carried away in the relationships between two couples. I also felt that the ending was weak. However, I’m still so glad I read this novel. Halfway through the year, I can say that it’s been one of the most fulfilling books I’ve read in 2012.
Seven and a half kidnapped opera singers out of ten.