2001 - Bel Canto
What is this book about? The premise is simple: a dinner party for international elites goes horribly awry when a terrorist group takes over the building and holds everyone hostage. I don't want to reveal much more about what happens, but even if I did it wouldn't really tell you what this book is about. Bel Canto explores humanity, passion, love, persistence, motivation, celebrity, survival, politics, culture, youth. Characters include billionaire businessmen, uneducated child soldiers, an opera star, Russian bureaucrats, a young priest, a nanny, a French diplomat.
There is so, so much packed into this book, yet it is written with such a beautiful pace that it simply unfolds. All of the pieces make sense together and all of the pieces stand on their own. The balance is reminiscent of an opera, a theme in the book that intertwines surprisingly well with terrorists and hostages. In this scene, the terrorists are considering forcing the opera star to sing more in her captivity:
"General Benjamin waited a moment. She was singing now and he let the sound of her voice wash over him while he saught a way to explain. Isn't it obvious? He wanted to say to his friends. Can't you hear that? 'Music, I believe, is different. That's what I understand. We have set this up exactly right, but if we were to push...' Benjamin shrugged. He raised a hand to touch his face and then thought better of it. 'We could wind up with nothing.'
'If we put a gun to her head she would sing all day.'
'Try it first with a bird,' General Benjamin said gently to Alfredo. 'Like our soprano, they have no capacity to understand authority. The bird doesn't know enough to be afraid and the person holding the gun will only end up looking like a lunatic.'" (P. 165)
The intricacy of the storyline makes it a difficult book to explain. I hesitate to say much more about the plot or the characters for fear of spoiling one of the lovely twists and turns for another reader. So I'll simply say this book was incredibly enjoyable and unlike anything else I've read for this reading challenge. This is one of the few books I will ever say this about: I'm recommending it to all readers. Really. It's surprisingly funny and lighthearted for a novel about a hostage crisis. Ann Patchett won several awards for this work, including the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Here are some other intricate, beguiling, delectable works of fiction with plots that gather together people in unusual predicaments:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- And Then there Were None by Agatha Christie
- The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Keep turning the page,