Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bel Canto

This book came highly recommended, and I thought I had read it but turns out it only seemed familiar to me because it is based on a real life experience. In 1995, the president of Peru and many of his guests were taken hostage and held for months. Bel Canto is a ficticious story based loosely on those events.

I only liked it. I understand its appeal - the coming together of hostages and terrorists alike, but the writing was a bit too ethereal and romantic for me. SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if its the universal band-aid. I know a lot of people that don't enjoy opera at all. In fact, a music lover myself, I'd have to admit that a lot of opera is an aquired taste. The hugeness of the voice, the strong vibrato and foreign languages - combined they can be overwhelming and I think it might become much listening to the same voice everyday for four and a half months. But, according to the author, there is no politician, businessman, servant or gunman that doesn't fall into a deep state of hypnosis when a soprano begins her song. I tend to think that perhaps the terrorist from a South American country where musical tastes a a bit different might not have been so cast under her spell, but I could be wrong. I've never thought of it as the only offered solace to a terrifying situation.

Which leads me to the other thing that I find a hard time believing. Terrorists...with guns....coming through air vents into a vice presidential palace and no one seemed particularly petrified. Again, I think this was the author's doing by leaving out the crapping of pants and desparate pleas for loved ones, but maybe everyone happened to be annoyingly contrite and calm, even the terrorists themselves who seemed awfully nice and understanding.

The end was appropriately tragic. I read a few reviews that described this as part of the magical realism genre which surprised me. Maybe all the lack of fear, and the happy hostage household was part of it. The ending, while sad and tragic, satisfied my need for logic and realism. This event seemed to have a larger psychological effect on the survivors then the original hostage takeover. Whether or not that is realistic or not, I have no idea.

I wish she hadn't written her epilogue. It was unnecessary and unbelievable. Sort of like how all doctors on a hospital television show end up as couples...as if there were no one else in the world to meet or socialize with. I did not believe or think that Gen and Roxane belonged together...even with their personal losses.

The book as a whole, however, is not void of greatness. The Russian cabinet member and his story of the box was poetic. Cesar's natural talent and love of performing made me cheer. And the inward look at most regarding their professions and priorities was very appropriate. All combined, it makes for an enjoyable, flawed book.

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