Friday, March 04, 2005

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

A Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 336 pages
# Publisher: Perennial; 1st Perenn edition, 2002
# ISBN: 0060934417
# $13.95

When Ann Patchett came to the college where I work on staff to give a reading to our students, I attended. The room was packed and bursting to the seams. Her book had been assigned as part of a summer reading program for incoming freshman, discussed in groups, now discussed with the author herself, and all concluding with her reading. It was a delight. Many authors who write well do not read well, but Patchett does both - and very well.

Bel Canto is a simple enough story (and those are always the best) contained in a house, specifically at a dinner for dignitaries gathered to celebrate the birthday of a prominent Japanese businessman. His gift - an opera singer. Roxanne sings for him, and her voice captures the hearts of all who are present. This, however, does not just include the dignitaries. When the lights go out, the terrorists arrive. This is not the scene of violence one might expect. The story unfolds on a stage of seeming opposites, the terrorists in their misguided ideals and poverty, the dignitaries in their wealth and isolation. Hostages and terrorists unite and interweave in beautiful song, literally and figuratively. A terrorist falls in love with a hostage. A hostage teaches an illiterate terrorist how to read. A terrorist reveals his own musical talent, and then, his own flagging self esteem, hidden behind his ever present weapon. Such a drama cannot end well, tragedy must break in on this unlikely community of souls, but this clash of reality is appropriate.

Patchett is a writer deserving of her many awards. Her storytelling ability is keen, and her writing talent is often breathtaking. She has an eye for the kind of detail that makes a story become life. Her expression is fresh and her own. Her readings, if available (I understand she now does very few), are also a literary treat.

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