Bel Canto
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"Bel Canto" Summary

By Ann Patchett

fiction | 336 pages | Published in 2020


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A beautiful hostage situation leads to unexpected connections and human tenderness in an opera house.


In the captivating novel "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett, the readers are transported into a world where music, passion, and unexpected connections intertwine. This multilayered story delves into the lives of a diverse group of characters who find themselves trapped together during a hostage situation. As the days turn into weeks, these individuals form unlikely bonds and discover the transformative power of art and human connection. With its rich storytelling and exploration of universal themes, "Bel Canto" is a masterpiece that resonates long after the final page.

Brief Synopsis

"Bel Canto" takes place in an unnamed South American country where a renowned opera singer, Roxane Coss, is scheduled to perform at the birthday celebration of a powerful Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa. The gathering consists of international guests, government officials, and other influential figures. However, the night takes an unexpected turn when a group of guerrillas, led by General Alfredo, storms the mansion in an attempt to kidnap the country's president.

The operation doesn't go as planned, and the guerrillas find themselves trapped inside the mansion with their hostages. Among the captives are Mr. Hosokawa, Roxane Coss, various government officials, and a wide range of individuals united only by their presence at the ill-fated party. The hostages and captors settle into an uneasy coexistence, with the tension growing as time goes on.

Main Events

  • The hostage situation unfolds: The guerrillas take control of the mansion, holding everyone inside captive. The situation becomes increasingly tense as the days pass, and negotiations for the hostages' release stall.
  • Unlikely connections form: Despite the circumstances, relationships begin to develop between the captors and hostages. A bond forms between Roxane Coss and Gen Watanabe, Mr. Hosokawa's translator. Through their shared love of music, they discover a profound connection that transcends their surroundings.
  • Music as a transformative force: Roxane Coss's singing becomes a source of solace and beauty amid the chaos. Her performances captivate both the captives and the captors, easing the tensions and fostering empathy between the two groups.
  • Love and desire in confinement: As time passes, several romantic relationships blossom within the mansion. These unexpected connections blur the boundaries between captor and captive and remind the characters of the power of human connection in even the most dire circumstances.
  • An unexpected conclusion: The novel builds towards a climactic and unforeseen ending that leaves the characters and readers contemplating the power of art, love, and sacrifice.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Roxane CossRenowned opera singer who becomes the central figure in the hostage situation. She is elegant, enigmatic, and possesses a captivating voice.
Gen WatanabeMr. Hosokawa's translator and an aficionado of opera. He forms a deep connection with Roxane Coss and acts as the intermediary between the hostages and captors.
Mr. HosokawaA powerful Japanese businessman who becomes one of the hostages. He is infatuated with Roxane Coss and is willing to take risks to ensure her safety.
CarmenA young guerrilla who becomes involved in a romantic relationship with one of the hostages, Cesar, despite their differences and circumstances.
Ruben IglesiasRoxane Coss's devoted and supportive accompanist. He provides a source of stability and resilience throughout the ordeal.
General BenjaminThe leader of the guerrilla group. He seeks power and influence but becomes increasingly charmed by the music and the atmosphere within the mansion.

Themes and Insights

The Transformative Power of Music and Art

One of the central themes of "Bel Canto" is the ability of music and art to transcend boundaries and bridge divides. Roxane Coss's singing captivates not only the hostages but also the captors. The power of her art reminds everyone of their shared humanity and allows for moments of respite from the tension and fear. This exploration of the transformative power of music highlights the universal nature of art and its ability to touch the hearts of all who experience it.

Love and Connection in Unexpected Places

In the confined space of the mansion, the characters form unlikely relationships that challenge conventional norms. Love blossoms between captives and captors, breaking down barriers and reminding the characters of the importance of human connection even in the most dire circumstances. "Bel Canto" explores the complexity of love and desire, showing how it can defy social norms and emerge unexpectedly even in the midst of chaos.

The Fragility of Security and Control

The sudden and unexpected hostage situation in "Bel Canto" exposes the fragility of security and control that underpins society. The characters find themselves stripped of their positions and preconceived notions of power as they grapple with their newfound vulnerability. This theme prompts readers to reflect on the fleeting nature of control and question the systems that rely on maintaining such illusions.

Sacrifice and the Human Spirit

As the novel reaches its climax, the characters are forced to confront sacrifice and the depths of their own resilience. "Bel Canto" explores the extraordinary lengths individuals will go to protect those they love and the boundless capacity of the human spirit to endure and find moments of profound beauty and connection even in the face of adversity.

Reader's Takeaway

"Bel Canto" is a remarkable exploration of the power of music, love, and human connection. Ann Patchett's exquisite storytelling creates a world that lingers in the minds and hearts of readers long after the final page. The novel offers a reminder of the universal truths that bind us all, regardless of background or circumstance. With its richly drawn characters and profound insights, "Bel Canto" invites readers to reflect on the transformative potential of art in even the most challenging times.


In "Bel Canto," Ann Patchett weaves a tapestry of music, love, and unexpected connections against the backdrop of a hostage situation. The novel explores themes of the power of art, the resilience of the human spirit, and the complexities of love. With its beautifully crafted prose and unforgettable characters, "Bel Canto" is an enthralling and thought-provoking read that offers profound insights into the human condition.

Bel Canto FAQ

  1. What is the plot of the book 'Bel Canto'?

    The book 'Bel Canto' tells the story of a group of terrorists who take hostages during a party at the Japanese embassy in an unnamed South American country. The hostages include high-profile politicians, diplomats, and a famous American soprano. As time passes, unexpected bonds form between the captors and the captives, leading to a complex and emotional narrative.

  2. Who is the author of 'Bel Canto'?

    The book 'Bel Canto' is written by Ann Patchett.

  3. What genre does 'Bel Canto' belong to?

    'Bel Canto' is a novel that falls under the genre of literary fiction.

  4. Is 'Bel Canto' based on a true story?

    No, 'Bel Canto' is a work of fiction and is not based on a true story.

  5. When was 'Bel Canto' first published?

    'Bel Canto' was first published in the year 2001.

  6. Are there any movie adaptations of 'Bel Canto'?

    Yes, a film adaptation of 'Bel Canto' was released in 2018. It starred Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, and Sebastian Koch.

  7. What is the theme of 'Bel Canto'?

    The central themes in 'Bel Canto' include the power of music, the endurance of the human spirit, and the unexpected connections that can form between individuals in extraordinary circumstances.

  8. Is 'Bel Canto' suitable for young readers?

    'Bel Canto' is targeted towards adult readers due to its mature themes and complex storytelling.

  9. Has 'Bel Canto' received any literary awards?

    Yes, 'Bel Canto' won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in the year 2002.

  10. What are some similar books to 'Bel Canto'?

    Books with similar themes and styles to 'Bel Canto' include 'The English Patient' by Michael Ondaatje and 'The Siege' by Helen Dunmore.