A Delicious Read: Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto”
After reading Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book and The Last Draft (fantastic reads for writers or anyone wanting to pen thoughts into cohesive sentences and edit to perfection) I began to voraciously read all Scofield’s suggestions of writers that would help me improve my prose. Ann Patchett was one of her sweet suggestions.
After checking out a book on CD from the local library, I quickly became enthralled in this suspense and character driven novel. Set in South America in the luxurious home of the Vice President, a group of party invitees (all so different and interesting) are caught up in a hostage takeover by a band of rebels fighting for a cause, they assume they understand.
Roxanne Cross, a beautiful opera singer, has come to sing for Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful businessman of extreme importance. Once the rebels break in and seemingly terrorize the group, some are released. The remaining hostages are at first fearful and traumatized, but begin to form bonds with their captors. Hours turn into days, and days to weeks until lines are blurred and relationships are formed. But nothing so traumatic and illegal can remain idyllic and surreal forever.
Patchett creates the most beautiful characters that moved me to tears during certain points in the novel. These characters were so rich and full, with powerful emotions and desires, hopes, and dreams. I found myself empathizing deeply with the (bad guys and girls) and battling an internal struggle that wanted them to win and continue on.
I became so enthralled in these character’s lives that I bought the book, then searched and found out there had been a movie with Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, which I did watch. I felt it was impossible for Hollywood to depict the inner struggles, joys, and desires of the characters within 101 minutes. I walked away from the movie slightly dissatisfied in all the deep characterization that was lost because of the time constraints a movie offers. A movie, though entertaining, cannot explore the inner workings of the human mind and heart like a novel can, but the movie was wonderfully done and I enjoyed it.
Upon further investigation I realized that the book had used a bit of Peruvian history as the spark for the novel. A Japanese embassy hostage crisis (the Lima Crisis) that occurred in 1996-1997. There were some criticisms in Patchett using this seed for her novel for various reasons, but not knowing details of the crisis before I read the novel, gave me the freedom to see the novel as what it was, fiction and a deeply rich, character driven story of human beings and their need to connect on the deepest level. Because of her novel, I was able to learn of the Lima Crisis and grow a greater understanding of the Peruvian people and this hostage crisis. I feel her book caused me to dig and through digging, I have a greater understanding.
Praise to Ann Patchett for her rich writing style and brave imaginations.
There are seeds for stories all around us; some come from our own experiences, moments with friends, family, news, etc. Each experience can spark ideas for stories and imaginings of what we have lost and what we desire. For me, these moments of discovery draw out certain emotions and bring forth my own desires, memories, and send my imagination speeding out of control, causing me to feel depths of emotion and yearn for something I may not completely understand. But that’s okay. That’s what good fiction does.
I love how Patchett’s internal seeds became Bel Canto. I was drawn in, captivated. She did a beautiful job.
This book touched me personally because of the rich characterization and the relationships; the suspense was wonderful as well. But each of us are different; if we weren’t there would be one book that fits us all.