Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

An unnamed Latin American country is holding an international gathering, in the hope of securing trade with a rich Japanese businessman, who has only attended because his favourite opera singer is performing there.  However, shortly after her performance, terrorists storm the house, but are disappointed when their intended target – the President of the country – is revealed not to be present.  They take everybody there hostage, and a siege situation develops, which lasts four and a half months.  Over this time, the hostages and terrorists become accustomed to one another and form friendships – two couples fall in love – and many people on both sides find out things about themselves that they never realised.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I found the behaviour of almost all of the characters to be unbelievable.  However, for the most part, their actions take second place to the development of the characters, who are revealed bit by bit, so that in the end, we feel like we know most, if not all of them, very well.  The book treats hostages and terrorists with the same sympathy.

The situations which develop seem to be a highly unlikely scenario, but it is interesting to see how people’s personalities and priorities developed in the isolated situation they found themselves in.

The writing is beautiful and poetic – sometimes too much so; I felt that at times, the story got bogged down in too much unnecessary description.  However, those times were few and far between, and for the most part, it was a pleasure to read.

Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a realistic book about a hostage situation, then this might not be the one for you.  But if you are willing to suspend your credibility a little, and enjoy eloquent writing, I would recommend it.  I am certainly considering seeking out more by this author.

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