Written by Ann Patchett, Bel Canto studies and contrasts human behavior in a most unusual setting. Each character arrives in the opening scene as one type of individual, evolves into a different kind of person throughout the book, and in the end, leaves as someone else or not at all.
The setting is somewhere in South America. The unknown country’s vice president is hosting a lavish birthday party for a Japanese powerful businessman with an ulterior motive—to convince him to build a factory in the poor country. Mr. Hosokawa had no such plan. His reason for coming was to hear a lyric soprano, Roxanne Coss, with whom he had fallen in love with because of his love for opera—discovered on his eleventh birthday.
After the soprano’s performance that night when no one could imagine what would happen, an event that began a four-month hostage situation unfolds:
“When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hand. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.”
The darkness remained unimportant as the audience continued to applaud. What follows is a mesmerizing story of how each character, including the French Red Cross negotiator, reacts, and changes their perception of life and what’s important.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in observing how anyone—a businessperson, a terrorist, an international opera star, a translator, a government official, or a priest—can live together in cramped quarters for months and still give love, respect, and tolerance to those who are different from them.
From a biblical perspective, I understood more fully how our human connections with one another are an important part of living in a diverse world after reading this book. The commonality reached in this eclectic community is a testament to the fact that God creates us all in the image and likeness of himself. And by doing so, our hearts are changed when we are forced to live with people not of our choosing. Friendship, compassion, and peace lived within the characters throughout this novel.
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24)
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
Perhaps, we should strive to follow the examples set forth in Bel Canto and the book of Romans in our relationships with people who are different from us.