Tag-Archive for ◊ California ◊

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.

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Author:
• Friday, September 26th, 2014

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California, in 1965. She is the middle daughter of a mother who left home when McLain was four years old and a father who was often in jail. McLain and her two sisters spent their childhood in various foster homes. When Paula McLain was eighteen she became independent and supported herself by working as a nurses’ aid in a convalescent hospital, then as a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker and a cocktail waitress before coming across a creative writing class when twenty four and discovering that her passion was to be a writer.

Paula Mclain has written two novels to date: A Ticket To Ride in 2008 and The Paris Wife in 2011.
She also wrote a non-fiction book in 2003: Like Family:Growing Up In Other People’s Houses and two poetry books: Less Of Her in 1999 and Stumble, Gorgeous in 2005.

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996 and fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. McLain teaches poetry in the MFA program at New England College and lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Paris Wife narrated by Hadley, is a well documented, fictionalized biography, which also
respects the historical period in which Hemingway, the famous pillar of American literature, lived with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in the Paris of the roaring twenties.

The reserved and timid, Hadley Richardson, who has abandoned any hope of love and marriage, is twenty eight years old when, in October 1920, she meets a handsome young man called Ernest Hemingway, eight years younger than herself, at a party in Chicago. They fall in love and after a short courtship and a stream of letters, they get married in 1921 and decide to live in Paris, which at the time is the centre of art and culture and where Hemingway will work as a foreign correspondent.

The Paris Wife is a homage to Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. McLain recognizes that The Moveable Feast – Hemingway’s own posthumously published memoir in 1964 by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, about his Paris years – was the inspiration that spawned her book. The story is told from Hadley’s perspective in a similar way to The Moveable Feast, which was written from Hemingway’s perspective. He says in his book that it’s about “how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy”.

McLain recounts the short, tumultuous years when Hadley and Hemingway lived together, as well as the beginning of Hemingway’s literary career in the early twenties in Paris. The newly married couple mix with Anglo Saxon expatriates, like American novelist, Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his novelist wife, Zelda, the American poet and critic, Ezra Pound, the American novelist, poet and playwrite, Gertrude Stein and the Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce, to name a few.

Unlike Hemingway, Hadley doesn’t feel at ease mixing with these non-conformist new acquaintances. She discovers that she lacks the ambition and the stamina to pursue her pianistic talent despite the encouragements of her husband and her friends. She is contented to be living through and in the shadow of her highly ambitious husband who is working very hard to make a name for himself in the literary world.

The Paris Wife is a poignant story of two psychologically damaged and therefore highly vulnerable people who love each other deeply without being able to grow old together. They both need each other but can’t lean on or rely on one another. Consequently their marriage is destined to fail.

Hadley loses Hemingway’s trust when she loses the small valise containing all of Hemingway’s three years work manuscripts on a train in the Gare de Lyon on her way to join him in Lausanne. Hemingway’s mistrust deepens further when Hadley announces her unexpected pregnancy to him when he isn’t yet ready for fatherhood and thinks that Hadley is imposing her will. Hemingway loses Hadley’s trust when she first sees his interest in other women and suspects his disloyalty when admiring Lady Duff Twysden, followed by the justified threatening love affair with her unfaithful friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.

After a brief marriage that lasts from 1921 to 1927, Hadley and Hemingway divorce because Hadley refuses Hemingway’s proposal for a “ménage à trois” with Pauline Pfeiffer, a not uncommon practice in the post first world war liberal Paris. Unable to convince Hadley, Hemingway marries Pauline Pfeiffer who becomes the second of his four wives.

Once the irreparable happens, life is never the same again for either of them. “Hemingway still loved Hadley afterwards. He couldn’t and wouldn’t stop loving her, maybe ever, but she killed something in him too. He’d once felt so anchored and solid and safe with her, but now he wondered if he could ever trust anyone”. Much later in his life, Hemingway reveals his regret in the last book he was working on before committing suicide, The Moveable Feast, when he wrote: “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her”, referring to Hadley.

When Hadley is informed about Hemingway’s suicide by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, she says: “Tatie was dead. There was nothing Paul – her second husband – could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing”. A sad love story that transcends any epoch.

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