Thursday, January 27, 2022

‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett




“If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”

I have a confession to make. There are 957 books on my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads. If I read one book every week it would take 18.4 years to get through the list. And that’s if they stopped releasing books today.

So during the winter months when the Marco Island and Collier County library’s inventory of new releases is sparse, I go back to the early days of my list and see what was bypassed. I picked “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, because I read it was being turned into a movie with Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe. “Bel Canto” was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. When I closed the book, I almost wanted to kick myself for waiting so long to read it. This book is wonderful.



Roxanne Casso, world-renowned soprano, has come to South America to sing at the birthday party of Katsumi Hosokawa, a visiting Japanese business tycoon. The president of the fictional South American country is a no-show to the event, deciding it is much more important to stay home and watch his favorite soap opera. This means he misses the terrorist invasion that was organized solely to take him hostage. With their prime target missing, these military men and child soldiers detain the partygoers. They keep anyone they deem will be worth ransom money and let the rest go, including all the women, except for Roxanne.

The book unfolds throughout the months of their captivity and Patchett’s pace matches that of the people caught in the house. The inhabitants fall into a rhythm and a lifestyle that leaves them (and us) forgetting the actual hostage situation. Two couples fall in love. Many others develop a parental relationship with the child soldiers who really, just want to be kids. Outside the mansion the world marches on while inside, there’s a totally different world emerging.

“Carmen prayed hard. She prayed while standing near the priest in hopes it would give her request extra credibility.

What she prayed for was nothing. She prayed that God would look on them and see the beauty of their existence and leave them alone.”

It’s the storytelling and the language that elevates this book. So much humanity buried in these pages! Even though we know from the start how this is all going to end, it still comes as a surprise because Patchett doesn’t tease it out or build towards it as much as she pushes it aside for the greater tale of what is happening to the inhabitants inside the house. That doesn’t make the ending any easier to bear but days later I was still fondly thinking of Cesar, the young terrorist who Roxanne teaches to sing. Or the Russian hostages, always smoking. And Roxanne and Katsumi.

While I can only imagine that Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe will turn this book into a captivating movie, I’m glad I read it first. Do you try and read books before they are released as a movie? And what movies do you think transcended their paper counterpart?

As always, thank you for your time!

Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.

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