Tag-Archive for ◊ Bel Canto ◊

Author:
• Friday, April 24th, 2015

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1963 from a novelist mother, Jeanne Ray, and a police officer father, Frank Patchett. She went to high school at St. Bernard Academy, which is a private catholic school for girls. After graduating, she attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she took fiction writing classes followed by Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 1990 she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint Of Liars.

Patchett has written fiction and non fiction books. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Nashville Banner Tennessee Writer of the Year Award in 1994 and in 2002 she won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN, Faulkner Award for her breakthrough fourth novel, Bel Canto, which sold over a million copies in the USA and has been translated into several languages. She lives with her physician husband in Nashville Tennessee.

Bel Canto is set in a nameless Latin American country, where the world famous American lyric soprano, Roxane Coss, is hired to sing at a cosmopolitan reception held in the luxirious mansion of the vice president, Ruben Iglesias, in honour of an influential Japanese businessman, Mr. Katsumi Hosokawa, founder and chairman of the successful electronics company, Nansei. The poor host country has arranged this very costly party to celebrate Mr. Hosokawa’s fifty-third birthday, hoping to attract investment and knowing that he would attend in order to listen to his favourite opera singer, Roxane Coss, whom he has been following in concert halls all around the world.

At the end of Coss’s last aria from Rusalka by Dvorak and at the end of an excellent evening, a rebel group called: La Familia de Martin Suarez – three generals and fifteen soldiers aged between fourteen to twenty recruited from the country side – disrupt the gathering to kidnap the president of the country who is not present because he preferred to stay at home to watch his favourite television soap opera. So instead of president Masuda, the entire party is taken hostage. Later on the women and children will be released and thirty nine men plus Roxane Coss will be retained as hostages for four and a half months.

After the fear and panic subside and after a period of readaptation on both sides when the kidnappers find nowhere to go nor how to deal with the unexpected situation of their failed plan, an amazingly beautiful bond of solidarity, love and friendship between captors and captives and among the hostages themselves develops. This is regardless of outside pressure and the constant visits of the International Red Cross worker, Joachim Messner. This fascinating relationship shows that people can become friendly and compassionate with strangers given the chance, and that nobody can be completely bad beyond retrieval, so there is still a hope for humankind.

As the days and months pass, the very young abductors discover their hidden talents. Ishmael becomes a good chess player, only by intently observing his general playing some games with Mr. Hosokawa – the two being good chess players. Cesar can now sing operatic parts learnt from listening to Roxane’s singing and Carmen is fast learning the various languages taught to her by her lover, Gen. Even the Nansei Electronics vice president, Tetsuya Kato, who is usually dealing with numbers, lets his pianistic talent surface. He is only too happy to be Roxane Coss’s new accompanist after the unfortunate death of her Swedish one.

Roxane Coss becomes the revered idol of everybody. Captors as well as captives succumb to her every whim. She is treated like the diva she really is and in return she delights her audience everyday with her delightful arias from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally, arias from Vincenzo Bellini, Paolo Tosti, and Franz Schubert’s Die Forelle. They are all now held captive by her beautiful singing and don’t wish to be released from their abductors. She knows that she is a very special, gifted star and enjoys the bewitching effect she has on her audience.

The Japanese gentleman, Mr. Hosokawa, is for the first time facing real passion after experiencing it only virtually all these years, when every evening at home he listens to the bel canto after a hard day’s work. Now he is living a dream and doesn’t want it to end. What could he have wished for more than living with his adored opera singer, Roxane Coss, and hearing her practising her delightful singing every day. For him it’s a pleasure beyond imagination and is even more enhanced when the spiritual meets carnal desire in the early hours of the morning in the bed of his beloved, Roxane, who shares his sentiment.

Gen Watanabe, Mr. Hosokawa’s private Japanese translator, is a professionally gifted polyglot, now working full time translating important as well as trivial matters for everyone, the abductors as well as the abducted. He is surrounded by people of various languages and nationalities: Argentinians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Germans, Danes, French, Italians, Russians and English. He attains his reward after a hard day’s work when, hidden in the china cupboard, he makes love every day at two o’clock in the morning with one of his captors, his beloved, beautiful, Carmen, who is also madly in love with him.

Bel Canto is a well-written story with subtle, well depicted characters although viewed under a stereotypical eye. There is the polite bowing of the Japanese men, mentioned often in the novel. The French diplomat, Simon Thibault, who is passionately in love with his wife, Edith, and who volunteers to do the cooking because “he’s French. The French know how to cook”. Then there is the ardent and heavy smoker, the Russian Muscovite, Victor Fyodorov, who bores Coss with his irrelevant childhood stories as an introduction to his love declaration for her. There is also the conscientiously serious German Lothar, a vice president of the pharmaceutical company Hoechst, who feels deeply sad about the death of Roxane Coss’s piano accompanist because of a lack of insulin, given that his company is a leading manufacturer of the drug.

All indulgent, happy, leisurely moments have an end in real life and operas by definition have dramatic endings. Since the novel is called Bel Canto, the dénouement of the story is like an opera finale – dramatically moving.

Author:
• Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Here is a list of the books we have read and reviewed and will be reviewing in the coming months at the UNWG Book Club:

2003
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Human Stain by Philipp Roth

2004
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Youth & The End Of The Tether by Joseph Conrad
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
Samarkand by Amin Maalouf
Portrait In Sepia by Isabel Allende
Youth by John Coetzee

2005
Waiting by Ha Jin
Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Notes From The Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia
Crabwalk by Günter Grass
The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath
The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

2006
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Fear And Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
The Palace Tiger by Barbara Cleverly
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Buddha Of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

2007
The Bookseller Of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Embers by Sandor Marai
Palace Of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz
I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In The Country Of Men by Hisham Matar
The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

2008
Staying On by Paul Scott
The Swallows Of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Cairo House by Samia Serageldin
Keeping The World Away by Margaret Forster
The Speed Of Light by Javier Cercas
The Lady On My Left by Catherine Cookson
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
An Old Fashioned Arrangement by Susie Vereker
Tears Of The Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

2009
The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu
Mothers And Sons by Colm Toibin
The Blood Of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
The Agüero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks
Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adiche
That Summer In Paris by Abha Dawesar
The Island by Victoria Hislop

2010
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Mission Song by John le Carré
The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies
The Sea by John Banville
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
26a by Diana Evans
The Road Home by Rose Tremain

2011
Desert by Le Clézio
Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs
Rules of The Wild by Francesca Marciano
My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Nadirs by Herta Müller
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa El Aswany
Crow Stone by Jenni Mills

2012
The Other Hand (UK print) or Little Bee (USA print) by Chris Cleave. (Two different titles for the same novel depending on where you buy it).
The Siege by Ismail Kadare.
The Loner by Josephine Cox.
Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
Okei by Mitsugu Saotome.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett / La couleur des sentiments / Gute Geister.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga / Le tigre blanc / Der Weisse Tiger.
My Father’s Notebook by Kader Abdolah / Cunéiforme / Die Geheime Schrift.

2013
The Last Station by Jay Parini / Une année dans la vie de Tolstoi / Tolstojs Letztes Jahr.
The Invisible City by Emili Rosales / La ville invisible / Tiepolo und die Unsichtbare Stadt.
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod / La perte et le fracas.
Illuminations by Eva Hoffman.
Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher / Oasis du couchant / Sonnenuntergangs Oase.
Ignorance by Milan Kundera / L’ignorance / Die Unwissenheit.
Light of the Moon by Luanne Rice.
Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr.
The Musician’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap.

2014
Honour by Elif Shafak / Crime D’honneur.
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes / Des fleurs pour Algernon.
Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye / Trois femmes puissantes.
Firmin by Sam Savage.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle / Embrouille en Provence.
The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna / Le lièvre de Vatanen.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain / Madame Hemingway.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen / Amours et autres enchantements.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh / Lignes d’ombres.

2015
The Map Of Love by Ahdaf Soueif / Lady Pacha.
The Secret History Of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez / Histoire secrète du Costaguana.
Night Train To Lisbon by Pascal Mercier / Train de nuit pour Lisbonne.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell / Cette main qui a pris la mienne.
The Way To Paradise by Mario Vargas Liosa / Le Paradis-un peu plus loin.
The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing / Le rêve le plus doux de Doris Lessing.
The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker / Le détour de Gerbrand Bakker.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson / La dernière conquête du major Pettigrew de Helen Simonson.

2016
Coastliners by Joanne Harris / Voleurs de plage.
The Rock Of Tanios by Amin Maalouf / Le rocher de Tanios.
The Heart Of A Dog by Mikhail Boulgakov / Coeur de chien.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin / La saison des mangues introuvables.
The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes / Une fille, qui danse.
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie / Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi / Le ravissement des innocents.
Accabadora by Michela Murgia.
Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson / Hanna et ses filles.

2017
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell / Epouser Mozart: Le roman des soeurs.
Please Look After Mother by Shin Kyung-Sook / Prends soin de maman.
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie / Kartographie.
All The Names by José Saramago / Tous les noms.
In The Skin Of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje / La peau d’un lion.
Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras.
Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson / Dans les coulisses du musée.
The Little Paris Bookshop By Nina George / La lettre oubliée.
The Masterpiece by Anna Enquist / Le chef-d’oeuvre.

2018
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke.
How It All Began by Penelope Lively.
The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Duenas. / Demain à Santa Cecilia.
The violinist Of Venice by Alyssa Palombo
The Woman On The Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami / Les années douces

 

 

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