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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 2, 2003

Revolutionary 'Bel Canto' on everybody's top-10 list

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

When we launched the Honolulu Advertiser Book Club last summer, we said that one of our criteria would be that the books we selected would be a little out of the way, not the top-10 best sellers about which everyone had heard. Well, our sixth selection just plain got away from us: When we first read it in late summer, and decided it would make a good choice for the club, it was well below the top 10 on the New York Times' and other lists. But while we were reading "Samurai's Garden" and "Peace Like a River," and letting bookstores and libraries know about our next selection, it crept into the high numbers.

So we're just going to take that as an endorsement of our choice and suggest that you read along.

The book is "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins, paper, $13.95) and it is, as others have said, the kind of book you want to thrust into other people's hands as soon as you finish it, pleading "Read this, read this ... so we can talk about it."

In "Bel Canto," a group of dedicated but amateurish revolutionaries take over a lavish state dinner party in an obscure South American country, planning to kidnap the president so as to get some of their comrades ransomed from jail. But the president isn't there, and the stymied kidnappers end up presiding over a mansion full of guests.

With consummate skill and a graceful writing style, Patchett builds a little world of a novel — a world so believable and complete that you're chapters into it before you lift your head suddenly and mutter, "Wait a minute, wait a minute!" Questions to keep in mind: Does the ending work? Could any ending work?

We'll publish an interview with Ann Patchett next week. You also can find out more by visiting www.annpatchett.com.