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East Bay Book Club Message Board › Meeting Recap: January 2013 Contemporary Book Discussion (Bel Canto by Ann P

Meeting Recap: January 2013 Contemporary Book Discussion (Bel Canto by Ann Patchett)

Group Organizer
Union City, CA
Post #: 31
We have just begun 2013 and already the year has gotten off to a great start. With 22 people attending the first book club meeting of the year to discuss Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, all bringing a variety of perspectives on the book, the meeting was one of the most exciting meetings ever in this club. And now, as usual, I shall post a quick rundown of interesting points brought up in the meeting, based on notes I've scribbled.

About Ann Patchett and Bel Canto, presented by Sue...

- Author was once a magazine writer, who later had writing-related disputes at her job
- According to Atlantic Monthly, Patchett was once a publicist for a book publisher, arranging events such as a book signing in a department store
- Patchett's view of books: the value of the book "is for the reader to decide, not for the author to explain"
- Bel Canto was based on the Japanese embaassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru, in December 1996. The author added opera to the story because that real-life situation was operatic. After 126 days, the crisis ended successfully after Peruvian armed forces came in, a situation that resulted in few deaths.
- Patchett knew nothing about opera before starting to write the novel.
- In an interview with Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central (clip of viewed on Sue's iPad), Patchett also co-owns a bookstore, which sounds rather like a conflict of interest. The interview also has a funny reference to the romantic comedy You've Got Mail, with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as rival booksellers.

Responses during the discussion of the book, led by Ken...

The priest - Why did he stay?
- It's a priestly thing to do. It's the right thing to do.
- Also, he wanted to connect with the opera.
- He feels protected, so perhaps he doesn't fear his captors.
- Religion doesn't play a big role in the book, surprisingly. It's probably because the revolutionaries come from villages, where they weren't necessariyl exposed to religion (or they had their own religion).

The ending about Gen and Roxanne:
- It didn't add anything. It seemed unspontaneous, unauthentic, and didn't seem to fit.
- The author seemed to force them together.
- Counterpoint: Is the love more important than which people get together?
- Gen communicated with every hostage, thanks to his language skills. Roxanne communited with everyone through her music. That could bring Gen and Roxanne together.
- These two characters shared the same horrible experience.
- Then again, these two characters were truly in love with other characters who died (Carmen and Hosokawa).

Maria the soap opera character:
- Soap operas are very popular in South America.
- In the book, Maria seemed like a cultural reference.
- One character, Beatrice, seems to be living through this character.
- In connection with the topic of religion in the story, perhaps the soap opera IS the religion.

Why did the hostage situation seem to turn pleasant?
- The psychology of hostage situations is so that such situations can turn less hostile.
- The young terrorists had lives improved, learning new things such as chess and music.
- The situation is an idealization, like a soap opera.
- Perhaps it's because people didn't want to disrupt the stability of the situation.
- Music is a universal language that crosses all language barriers.

Interesting side comment from someone: Would Bel Canto be the same story if it was written post-9/11?

Hosokawa taking bullet for Carmen - Why?
- He wanted to save her.
- There was some disagreement among the meeting attendees, as some thought that it wasn't a deliberate act of sacrifice.
- Like the priest, Hosokawa does the right thing without question.

Final thoughts about the book...

- 3/4 of the attendees clearly liked the book, with few criticisms. The rest were mixed or definitely didn't like it.
- Negatives about the book: too "soap operary," no depth, menace dissipated after the beginning of the story, the ending, a little over the top, unnatural human behavior
- Positives about the book: the writing style, an ensemble of characters, the story

All in all, this was a great meeting, and I look forward to the next one. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this was the meeting where I introduced my new little pet acting as an assistant and unofficial East Bay Book Club mascot: Booker the Book Monkey. Yeah, he's sitting at home reading everything on my shelves. :-)
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