Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

This 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.

Decorations

The main focus of my decorations was the table setting.

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.

Music

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.

Cecilia Bartoli ~ Opera Proibita (Handel · Scarlatti · Caldara) / Les Musiciens du Louvre · Minkowski


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.

FORMAL MENU

APPETIZER

Mushroom Marquees

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

SALAD

Spring Salad with Strawberries, Walnuts and Feta Cheese

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

ENTREE

Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Cranberry Demi-Glace

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

Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise

DESSERT

Lemon Mousse topped with Whipped Cream and Raspberry

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: