What Ruben wanted to tell them was that these things never worked out. No demands were ever met, or were ever honestly met. No one got away with the money and a handful of comrades liberated from some high-security prison. The question was only how much time it would take to wear them down, and how many people would be killed in the process.
At this point in the novel, the generals have realized that the president, their target, is not at the birthday party. They don’t have a backup plan, and they are trying to decide how to proceed. This passage from Chapter Two, in which the vice president, Ruben Iglesias, thinks about the terrorists’ unrealistic hopes, is typical of Bel Canto. From the beginning of the novel, the narrator hints that the hostage situation will not end well. Here, we are told point-blank that it is merely a question of “how many people [will] be killed.” Like audiences at an opera or a Greek tragedy, we know how the story will end even as we watch the story unfold. The characters’—and our—impulse to hope that somehow tragedy will be averted, even though they and we know it can’t be, suggests the larger human impulse to embrace life even though death is inevitable.
He realized now he was only just beginning to see the full extent to which it was his destiny to follow, to walk blindly into fates he could never understand. In fate there was reward, in turning over one’s heart to God there was a magnificence that lay beyond description. At the moment one is sure that all is lost, look at what is gained!
In this passage from Chapter Five, the narrator explains the thoughts of Father Arguedas, who feels blessed to be in captivity. Arguedas believes that when you trust God, even the most dire events are full of goodness. Being held hostage by terrorists struck Arguedas as a disaster at first, but after a while, he finds blessings in the situation. Captivity means he can listen to Roxanne Coss sing every day. It also means he can fulfill his vows as a priest by ministering to people who are in great need.
Father Arguedas’s belief in destiny is strengthened by captivity. He comes to believe that “it [is] his destiny to follow.” A deeply religious man, he does not think it is his place to understand the fate that God has created for him. To Arguedas, people are helpless, uncertain creatures who must trust God if they hope to find happiness.
“If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do they love you? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”
Coss speaks these words in Chapter Seven during in a conversation with Watanabe. Fyodorov has just finished declaring his love to Coss, whom he hardly knows. Nearly every man in the novel loves Coss for her singing. Their adoration flatters Coss, but it does not satisfy her. As she points out here, they love her for her talent, not for herself. Coss is caught in the classic artist’s dilemma. She wants the world to love her for her art, but she also wants to be loved for herself alone. The kind of love she craves is mutual love, in which two people truly know each other. She distinguishes this kind of mutual love from the one-sided adoration an audience feels for a star.
He understood that these were extraordinary times, and if their old life was ever restored to them, nothing would be the same.
In Chapter Ten, Hosokawa thinks about how much he loves Coss, how full his life has become, and how impossible it would be to maintain this existence if the captivity ended. Hosokawa and Coss could stay together if the crisis ended; in fact, the narrator explains that Hosokawa would be willing to leave his wife and children. But Patchett implies that the quality of Hosokawa and Coss’s love has as much to do with their situation as it does with their innate qualities. Captivity is something of a dream world, far removed from drab everyday worries about getting to work on time, eating lunch, figuring out the kids’ schedules, paying rent, and so on. If Hosokawa and Coss returned to normal life, the petty concerns of normal life would taint their perfect relationship.
So Gen should have said something more, and Carmen should have listened more, but instead she kissed him, because the important thing was to forget. That kiss was like a lake, deep and clear, and they swam into it forgetting.
In Chapter Ten, Watanabe translates a conversation in which Messner explains that soon the government will stop allowing him to come to the mansion. This indicates that the government is about to take some action that will likely lead to the deaths or imprisonment of the terrorists, including Carmen. Watanabe tells Carmen what Messner said. Instead of thinking about the impending tragedy, or making plans to flee together, Watanabe and Carmen ignore what is happening and kiss. Their willful forgetfulness can be interpreted as frustratingly reckless, but it can also be interpreted as a sensible response to fate. Throughout the novel, Patchett has suggested that the terrorists will certainly die. Perhaps forgetting is, for Watanabe and Carmen, a way of accepting fate.
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