June: Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto

Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Named the Book Sense Book of the Year, the novel sold over a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages.

Here’s a description of the book from Patchett’s website: “Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.”

Reviews for Bel Canto were astonishing in their uniform praise. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from the review in The New Yorker: “Patchett’s tragicomic novel—a fantasia of guns and Puccini and Red Cross negotiations—invokes the glorious, unreliable promises of art, politics, and love. Against this grand backdrop, the smallest gestures bloom with meaning: a pretty governess stitching up the cheek of her employer with her sewing kit; a young terrorist discovering the tyranny of wearing a watch; an exasperated French diplomat risking his life to peel an eggplant with a proper knife.”

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, “Elegantly alluring. . . . . A novel that begins with a kiss and absolutely deserves one.”

Here’s a link to an interview with Patchett, in which she describes the process of writing the novel and in which she offers a perfectly beautiful tribute to relationship between readers and writers:  “I believe literature takes place between the writer and the reader. You bring your imagination, they bring theirs, and together you make a book. It’s a kind of literary chemistry, and what’s great about this is that the book is going to be different for everyone who reads it.”


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