I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Flipped through the Pages of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto

Acquired: August 16, 2008, given to me by my brother-in-law Ken on his last Manila trip; I have since bought at least 3 copies I gave up for mooching.
Read: October 2009
ISBN: 0060838728
My copy is a well-loved, dog-eared trade paperback.

This book came with high recommendations from everyone who has read it. That, of course, raised the expectation and put it in danger of falling below it. It didn't.

Only the most critical would find nothing to like about this book.

Ann Patchett's writing reminds me of the depressing truth that I can't write. Not fiction. Nothing this moving. Nothing this bittersweet and poignant.

Ann Patchett writes the language of romance. No, not the cheesy, Fabio-on-the-cover variety of romance writing. Certainly more sublime. Take, for example, the way she rhapsodizes about music. She writes about one of the book's main characters, Katsumi Hosokawa, how on his elevent birthday his father brings him to the opera. In the opera hall, they walked together, not speaking, and listened to the music. Katsumi, moved, feeling himself falling forward, reached for his father's hands. I narrate it poorly, so let me quote an excerpt:
"It was during that performance of Rigoletto that opera imprinted itself on Katsumi Hosokawa, a message written on the pink undersides of his eyelids that he read to himself while he slept. Many years later, when everything was business, when he worked harder than anyone in the country whose values are structured on hard work, he believed that life, true life, was something that was stored in music. True life was kept safe in the lines of Tchaikovsky's Eugne Onegin while you went out into the world and met the obligations required of you."

It is amazing how one can write romantically about a hostage situation.

In an unnamed South American country, armed terrorists take hostage of a dinner party, of which Hosokawa is the guest of honor. He was bribed to attend the party, and the payoff is the opportunity to listen to the music of revered soprano Roxanne Coss. The cost of this exchange is many days trapped in a house, and more. In this unlikely scenario, people of different races bond. Some of them fall in love, if not with each other, at least with Roxanne's music. Hardened terrorists, pragmatic businessmen grow enamored with music in languages they don't even understand.

And then it ended.

Abruptly. Tragically. If you're like me, a sucker for sad endings, do not read the epilogue right away. Give it some time before you turn the page, grieve, ponder, and then slowly turn the page for a surprising ending. I have no more words, so this post will end just as abruptly.

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