Bel Canto : A Review

15 Feb

Reading a book that won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award inevitably gave me a high set of expectations. A little bit of research got me to the Wikipedia page where I was told that Ann Patchett based her book on the Lima Crisis in Peru, – where a bunch of terrorists from MRTA took hostage hundreds of high-level diplomats, government and military officials and business executives who were attending a party at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru, Morihisha Aoki, in celebration of Emperor Akihito‘s 63rd birthday. So far so good. A prize-winning book with a promise of thrill based on a true events. I really could not ask for more.

True enough. The first several pages gripped me strongly with its detailed staging in preparation of the siege scene itself. This is great because not many writers would do such thing so excellently. Patchett’s greatest asset became apparent here. She belongs to the rare breed of authors who write so beautifully in a prose which is so lyrical that it almost feels like the text was sung instead of written.

However, this is exactly the same thing that makes the book fail to fill my expectations. Note that there is no good or bad here. It’s just that I expected a thriller when I got myself a love story instead. Nothing more than that. When I got to the halfway of the book, I was beginning to be bored at some points. It’s a good work, but sometimes it gets a little bit too sweet for my liking. From this point of view, it’s kind of hard for me to believe how could someone so sober as Gen could fall in love that easily with the female terrorist, Carmen. Of course, you could put forward the idea that anything is possible in love; – but realistically, I do feel that she could have built the relationship up more patiently so that a reader would not feel as disoriented as I do.

But does that make this book a bad work ? Not in my life I would say so. It shines brightly when one approaches to read it as a set of coming-of-age stories of its characters. Everybody in this novel experiences some changes to their lives, however small. And Patchett. Patchett described those evolutions in such a natural way, blunt but emphatic, that I could not help but feel like I actually know some of the characters. It is with this kind of approach that Bel Canto should be read. Slowly and savoring every tragic beauty of the details and subtle nuances.

For a reading guide of Bel Canto from the author’s official website, go here.  Please share your opinions about this book with me on the comments.  Thanks 🙂


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