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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann PatchettThis is a story of an elaborate birthday party gone wrong.   The host is an unappreciated Vice President of a poor South American country.  The birthday boy is a powerful businessman from Japan.  The entertainment is a mesmerizing soprano that wins the heart of all who hear her sing.

When terrorists crash this party, the evening and the lives of everyone present will forever change.

From the Publisher

Somewhere in South America, at home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman. A famous American opera diva entertains the international guests. It is a night out of a fairytale — until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario turns into something quite different — as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds…people from different countries and continents become compatriots…and passionate, ill-fated love blooms upon this unlikely soil.  Harper Collins Publishers

Book Club Party Ideas for Bel Canto

The government of this South American country wants Katsumi Hosakawa, head of a major Japanese electronics firm, to invest in their county.  They spare no expense in throwing an elaborate birthday party for Mr. Hosakawa.    They whet the senses of the guests with the beautiful singing voice of Roxanne Coss and they whet the appetites of the guests with a four course meal.


The main focus of my decorations was the table setting.

tablecloth, plates, knives, forks

Now you have a reason to pull out your grandmother’s china.  Don’t forget the table cloth, it will be the backdrop to your decor.

And what girl doesn’t like to play dress up?    For this book club celebration,  we all wore evening gowns (go all out and buy yourself a new evening gown, or dust off those old bridesmaids dresses).  Another great idea is to support your local Goodwill or Salvation Army – you would be amazed at the clothes that people give away.

Formal wear


Bel Canto – a style of operatic singing that is uniquely Italian, literally means beautiful singing.

“Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God’s own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice.”

In researching female sopranos for my music I came across Cecilia Bartoli.  The photo I saw of her was what I envisioned Roxanne Coss to look like.  I bought the CD (with my 11 year old son in tow) and was dying to listen to it on the way home.  With a little bit of bribery, I put the CD into the player and as I was enjoying Cecilia Bartoli’s voice I glanced at my son to see he was entranced.  I knew this was the CD for the party.

Book Club Menu for Bel Canto

I made a formal menu – and proudly served the meal on my mother-in-law’s beautiful china and crystal.  I know seeing her heirlooms being showcased puts a smile on her face.


Game Hens, bread, asparagus, glaze


Mushroom Marquees

Mushroom Appetizer

A pleasing mixture of mushrooms, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese topped with french fried onions served over french bread.


Spring Salad with Strawberries, Walnuts and Feta Cheese

salad recipes, walnuts, feta, strawberries

Spring mix and spinach salad topped with strawberries, walnuts and feta cheese.  Tossed with a raspberry vinaigrette.


Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Cranberry Demi-Glace

Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hens

Cornish game hens roasted with citrus, thyme, rosemary and garlic.  Served with a cranberry demi-glace.

Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise

asparagus recipes


Lemon Mousse topped with Whipped Cream and Raspberry

raspberry, whipped cream, lemon recipes, pudding

A celebration of pleasing flavors.  Simple and simply satisfying.

Book Club Resources for Bel Canto

Discussion Questions for Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

  1. Roxanne Coss mesmerizes people with her voice.  Is there a singer that you feel who stands “so close to God that God’s own voice poured from her” or him?
  2. The opera Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak symbolizes the fear that deep love will end in terrible suffering.   Was this a good choice for the author to choose for the centerpiece of Roxanne Coss’s repertoire?
  3. Katsumi Hosakawa and Roxanne share an attraction even though they don’t speak the same language.  Do you think it is possible to fall in love with someone you are unable to communicate with through words?
  4. What do you think about the relationship that developed between Gen and Carmen?  Is there hope for them to continue this relationship when the hostage situation is resolved?
  5. General Benjamin joined the terrorist group La Familia de Martin Suarez after his brother was arrested and imprisoned for handing out political protest flyers.  Did Benjamin make the right decision to leave his family and his  job as a school teacher to stand up to this injustice?
  6. Some of the terrorists are still children and as the story unfolds you learn of the desires and talents that some of these terrorists possess.  Do you think these children had a choice whether to get involved in the movement or not?   Is there hope for them to lead a normal life when this ordeal is over?
  7. How would you react if you found yourself in a life threatening situation similar to the one portrayed in this story?

The Author

Ann Patchett was born in 1963.  She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband.  Her novels have won the following awards:

  • The Patron Saint of Liars – a New York Times Notable Book for 1992
  • Taft – awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994
  • TheMagician’s Assistant – short-listed for England’s Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Bel Canto – won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year.  It sold over a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages
  • Truth & Beauty – one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association.

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Feel free to add your ideas, comments or book review below.

  1. I read Bel Canto when it first came out and loved it! I recommended it to several friends, and none of them felt the same way, which was a great surprise and disappointment because we all want our friends to love the books we love. It was beautifully written and a surprisingly tender account of the events.

    Now, on to the feast and beautiful place settings and food. My mouth is watering!

    Comment by jenclair

  2. Bel Canto is definitely at the top of my list of favorite books. I really felt for the young terrorists and General Benjamin – such a different world than ours.

    Comment by Marilyn

  3. Oh, yes – after reading Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat, I’m ready to read more opera! I think I’m just going to have to start a book club here so I can implement all of these fabulous ideas (and recipes)!

    Comment by Coffee and a Book Chick

  4. I will need to put Skipping a Beat on my reading list! Check out Cecilia Bartoli ~ her Opera Proibita is a collection of dramatic arias written in Rome at the start of the 18th century. At that time, opera performances was forbidden by the Church and female singers were forbidden from singing in public. It is mesmerizing.

    Comment by Marilyn

  5. Omgomgomg, this is one of my all time favorite books and you guys just made it even more better. Fancy dresses! Fancy meals! Desert–delicate yet decadent.

    I’d be curious to see what you do with Run. It’s not as fun of one for a party (therein lies the challenge right?) but it’s a lovely book.

    Comment by Owl

  6. Bel Canto is definitely a great book to do a themed book club party – I had fun planning that one. I just might need to move Run up on my book list, who doesn’t love a good challenge!!

    Comment by Marilyn