Thoughts on Bel Canto from Joan Habel

Ann Patchell’s Bel Canto seems to be character driven.  The quiet dignity of the Oriental persona is exemplified in the characters of Gen, Hosokawa, and Kato.  Their behavior creates a calming effect on the volatile hostage taking.  The situation immediately creates an unexpected reaction — not panic, as one might expect.  Instead, contemplation and clarity of thought follow.  The comfort of daily rituals and routine, family connections and their place in the world, were no longer available to them.  Only through the inclusion of music were they all, collectively, able to feel some semblance of order in their situation. With the elimination of their histories, their thoughts could wander and a “what if” could be considered.  The long days allowed time for introspection for some.

The juxtaposition of the Japanese and Russian hostages added an interesting contrast to the story, as did as the various backgrounds of the other hostages and the generals and their young band of terrorists.  The universal need for love seemed to thrive even with the various language barriers.  The emotion did not need a name to exist.  The three hapless generals, once their original plans were aborted, only managed to keep a semblance of order within the confines of the house. With no exit plan, the final solution was inevitably left to the government. Within the artificial environment of captivity, the past structures of their lives no longer existed, and they were all free to reinvent themselves and their relationships.

Over and over again, as the story progressed, I returned to the realization of the tenacity of the human spirit, the ability to adapt and somehow accept the immediate change and move on.  The universal language of music seemed to allow the hostages and the revolutionaries alike to endure the situation, and love thrived. What disparate partners that love produced.     The beautiful, lyrical writing within the context of the story both broke my heart and caused my emotions to soar, as I felt the wonder of the human spirit.  The characters were alive on the page for me and they became part of me.

I did not anticipate the strange twist at the end of the story, though I was not at all surprised at the ending of the hostage taking. After much contemplation,I realized that as long as Gen had Roxane and her music, then Carmen would forever be in his presence and in his heart.

My name is Joan Habel, and I have completed several writing workshops with Carrie Brown and also several writing classes with John Gregory Brown.  I am working on a revision of a short story begun in  Professor John Brown’s class. My writing experience at Sweet Briar is a new adventure, another one of my many lives within a long lifetime. The creative process of writing is both humbling and exciting.  Sometimes I am not sure where the ideas within a story originate, asif my hand is only the tool to hold the pen as the ideas flow from some place deep within the many layers of my life.

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