Readers puzzled by ending in 'Bel Canto'
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor
|Book club basics
Here's how to get involved in The Honolulu Advertiser Book Club:
Membership: There is no formal membership. Just read the book and participate in the virtual discussion by sending in your comments and questions.
Book club visits: Books editor Wanda Adams is seeking groups that are reading along with the Advertiser Book Club, or who are willing to do so for a future selection so she can drop in on a discussion meeting. Call her at 525-8036.
Our book: "Carter Beats The Devil," by Glen David Gold. Hyperion, paper, $24.95 (but widely discounted online).
Reading period: Until May 9.
Next "discussion": May 18.
To participate in the discussion: Read the book, send comments and questions to Wanda Adams, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Fax: 525-8055. E-mail.
Listen: To the "Sandwich Islands Literary Circle" at 9:30 tonight, KHPR 88.1 FM, KKUA 90.7 FM Maui, KANO 91.1 FM Hilo; or hear the program online, starting tomorrow.
Even readers who loved the book and most did were at least a little puzzled by the book's denouement. (If you've not read the book yet, clip this out and save it, but don't read any further!)
"Bel Canto" is about a peculiar form of group fantasy that occurs when a group of well-connected people are taken hostage during a birthday party for a wealthy industrialist in South America. They have just heard an extraordinary solo performance by a world-renowned opera singer when the lights dim and suddenly the room is full of guerrillas.
For the next four months, the hostages and the guerrillas mostly undertrained, idealistic but inexperienced rural peasants live together in almost perfect harmony, acting as though the inevitable tragic ending will never take place.
Of course, it does. The government sends in the troops, and key characters die.
That's when Patchett pulls a fast one: She leaps forward in time and pairs up two survivors you don't expect to see together. The marriage, in some ways, makes perfect sense better sense, in fact, than the love relationships that blossom while they're being held captive. But it's not what you expect. Or, in some cases, want.
Jovita Rodas of Moanalua, who said the book "deserves thorough reading" and particularly enjoyed Patchett's "sly humor," was surprised. "One has to wonder if a better ending could have been achieved," she said. She wanted a happier walkoff.
Judy Miller, too. "I have read the book and loved it," she wrote via e-mail. "However, I am disturbed by the ending. I didn't understand why the two who lost their lovers would marry and apparently be so happy." She did note that "Patchett has ended several books with what I consider a 'surprise' ending."
Anne-Rose Kobayashi of Mililani had to make her peace with the ending: "At first, I said, 'whaaaat?' But I concluded after re-reading the ending and thinking about it, that it was appropriate, because it serves as a fitting way to illustrate the difference between the made-up world and the real one. ...
"What they all had in that house where they were held captive was a fragile bit of time away from the day-to-day. There they became the people they wanted to be. But outside, few of them would be the same people."
The ending aside, readers enjoyed the book and its themes.
"What a wonderful book to read and enjoy," wrote Christine Guro. "Thanks for selecting it!"
"It's one of the most amazing books I've ever read," wrote Roseyn Devlin of Kailua. "It's about the place of the arts and language in cross-cultural understanding, about forming community and about heart-breaking misunderstanding and violence. With humor and sex besides. How appropriate right now."
"The sad experience of hostages is not a comfortable subject but is a reality to be faced. Bel Canto makes this a vivid experience for all of us to share," wrote Eloise Van Niel.
"The story and characters keep entering my thoughts," wrote Darlene Rogers of Waikapu, who quibbled with some minor points (no way the opera singer's dyed hair would have kept its color for four months!). "This is a book about love. Love, not just of another individual, but love of mankind. Her premise seems to reflect the belief that if we truly were to become intimate with our enemies, or those we do not even know, we will learn to love them for their strengths as well as their weaknesses. That time can bring acceptance and endearment.
"As the world is facing war, it would be nice to think if we took all the players and isolated them in a walled-off world indefinitely they would find a way to live together."
This is the longest, the most action-packed and the most far-reaching book of any we've selected. It's the story of a magician, Carter the Great, who survives great grief and professional ruin to find the magic in life.
It's tender and violent, difficult and engrossing and it's got something for everyone: love stories, things that go bang! and boom!, crime and punishment and mysteries, secrets and lies. And there are tricks within tricks, too. (Examine the cover of the paperback carefully to discover one of these.)
Next Sunday, we'll introduce Glen David Gold with an interview. Best start reading now: This is a long and eventful journey we're embarking upon.
To learn how to get involved with the Advertiser Book Club, see above.