Hannibal Free Public Library

Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

February 22, 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is set somewhere in South America , at the home of the country's Vice President, where a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. What begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different.

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963, the youngest daughter of her nurse mother and police officer father. She has won a variety of awards for her writing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe Roxanne Coss. What is it about her that makes such an impression on the other hostages and the terrorists?
  1. How does her singing and the music relate to the story?
  1. Even though he is given the opportunity to leave the mansion, Father Arguedas elects to stay with the hostages. Why does he decide to stay when he risks the possibility of being killed?
  1. What role does religion play in the story?
  1. There are numerous instances in the story where Mr. Hosokawa blames himself for the hostages' situation. Whom do you think is ultimately responsible?
  1. Roxanne and Mr. Hosokawa speak different languages and require Gen to translate their conversations. Do you think it's possible to fall in love with someone to whom you cannot speak directly?
  1. Compare the love affairs of Gen and Carmen, and Roxanne and Mr. Hosokawa. What are the elements that define each relationship?
  1. The garua, fog and mist, lifts after the hostages are in captivity for a number of weeks.  How does this observation about the weather mirror what is happening inside the Vice President's mansion?
  1. At one point Carmen says to Gen, "'Ask yourself, would it be so awful if we all stayed here in this beautiful house?'" (p. 206). And towards the end of the story it is stated: "Gen knew that everything was getting better and not just for him. People were happier." Messner then says to him, "'You were the brightest one here once, and now you're as crazy as the rest of them'" (pg. 302). What do you think of these statements? Do you really believe they would rather stay captive in this house than return to the "real" world?
    When the hostages are finally rescued, Mr. Hosokawa steps in front of Carmen to save her from a bullet. Do you think Mr. Hosokawa wanted to die?
  1. The story is told by a narrator who is looking back and recounting the events that took place. What do you think of this technique? Did it enhance the story, or would you have preferred the use of a straight narrative?

Discussion questions adapted from those developed by Perennial Publishing