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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Ten

Chapter Nine

Epilogue

Summary

Mr. Hosokawa regularly visits Coss’s bedroom at night. He is in love, but he knows that the circumstances are extraordinary. He doesn’t believe his relationship with Coss will survive in the outside world. Hosokawa wonders if everyone experiences such love for a short time and then spends the rest of their lives remembering it.

Each night in the china closet, Watanabe and Carmen alternate between making love and studying. Despite the power of their love, the narrator reminds us, Watanabe is still a hostage, and Carmen is still a terrorist.

Messner, the Red Cross representative, shows up looking haggard. He is the only one who seems worried about how this standoff will end. He is no longer trying to work out a compromise; he simply hopes to help the terrorists avoid a tragedy. After struggling to get General Benjamin’s attention, Messner explains that government action seems imminent. Messner begs Benjamin to surrender, but Benjamin refuses. During the conversation, Benjamin seems almost convinced that the government will just let them stay in the mansion forever.

Watanabe, who is translating the conversation, understands that time may be growing short for the terrorists. Though this worries him, he can’t believe that anything bad will happen to Carmen. He thinks that because she is special to him, she will somehow be spared. Watanabe tries to forget all of the ways that tragedy is imminent so he can continue to believe that his love for Carmen will survive. In fact, the narrator tells us, “everyone forgot. Except for Messner, whose job it was to remember. And Simon Thibault, who even in his sleep thought of nothing but his wife.”

Coss continues to give Cesar his lessons. One afternoon, she is instructing him inside while everyone else is outside. Many people are playing soccer. Ishmael is helping Iglesias in the garden. Government troops come in. Coss sees them and screams. The troops kill Cesar and then, in the garden, they kill General Benjamin. Soon after the general’s death, the narrator says, the general’s brother is taken from prison and executed for conspiracy. The troops shoot Ishmael. The vice president sees Ishmael go down and rushes to him, weeping. Beatriz sees that all of the terrorists are being shot, but she can’t believe she will be shot, too. She thinks if she keeps her arms straight the government troops will see that she is surrendering, and spare her. Mendoza sees that Beatriz is in danger and rushes toward her. Beatriz smiles at Mendoza and is shot.

Watanabe looks for Carmen, repeating, “She is my wife, she is my wife.” The narrator says that Carmen was killed right in the beginning. She and Hosokawa were in the kitchen and they rushed out when they heard Coss scream. Hosokawa was killed when he stepped between Carmen and the government troops to try to save her.

Analysis

In Greek tragedy, the characters can’t escape fate. In Bel Canto, the captives can’t escape the inevitable onslaught of government forces sent to rescue them. That the happy captivity would end badly was never really in question, particularly after negotiations ceased, but the characters and perhaps we, the readers, were reluctant to admit it. As the lovers try to believe that their idyll will never end, Messner arrives to announce, as a Greek chorus would, that disaster is impending. But even Messner, the voice of realism, wants to wriggle out of what awaits. He counsels General Benjamin to surrender, overlooking or ignoring the fact that if the terrorists surrendered, they would certainly face execution. Death awaited the terrorists regardless of whether they surrendered or stood their ground.

Hosokawa is the one character who seems to understand and accept that the love he shares with Coss may be fleeting. Bel Canto is a novel with a large cast of characters, but Hosokawa is one of the characters we know best, and it is he who has gained the deepest understanding of life, love, and loss.

When Hosokawa steps between Carmen and the guns of the government soldiers, the gesture recalls the way Carmen stepped between Hosokawa and Beatriz when Beatriz trained a gun on them. These two gestures, mirror images of kindness, prove that the hostages and the terrorists are willing to risk their lives for one another. With this gesture, she reminds us of all the kindness that has gone between the hostages and the terrorists.

In this final chapter, it is clear how completely Patchett has subverted the conventions of hostage stories. In most such stories, the reader would be urged to root for government troops to save the hostages from the evil terrorists. But in Bel Canto, the government troops are menacing forces of death, and the hostages weep over the deaths of their young captors. They mourn them as they would their own children.

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