Bel Canto was an absolute joy to read. It is the personification (or the novelization) of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages and captors begin to form emotional connections. Ann Patchett does such a masterful job that you barely realize that you yourself as the reader are becoming emotionally attached to both terrorist and hostage.
Add in the delightful references to opera and arias throughout the book, and you have a Murakamiesque combination of enticing characters and lovely music (I listened to most of the referenced pieces while reading).
The story takes place in a South American country. All inferences are that it is Peru, as the story is extremely similar to a real-life hostage situation at the Japanese Embassy in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima, Peru.
I worked a few blocks from this embassy during grad school and so this book intrigued me on that level and on the opera side. I started listening to opera after college and can’t get enough of it.
It was also very interesting to read this book during the first week of quarantine for Covid-19. Although a hostage situation and a quarantine are vastly different, there were some similarities that popped up, especially while in the initial quarantine atmosphere. It’s funny how the reading of certain books can time with life events in this way.
Two of the main characters are an opera singer and a translator. It was neat to contrast these two characters. The diva was a translator of the human heart. When she sang, the hostages (and captors) from a variety of countries speaking different languages were cut to the heart. It didn’t matter whether she was singing in Italian or French. The other character, Gen, a Japanese translator, was responsible for facilitating discussion between all of the different characters in the book. He knew all of the different languages the hostages and captor spoke. He was responsible for translating hostage negotiations as well as deep issues of the heart.
Ann Patchett did a fantastic job in developing all of the different characters. I could see myself in many of them even as they careened down a path of destruction. This was a very well-written and well-developed book that has also been turned into a movie.