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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett


Chapter Two

page 1 of 2


The night passes. By morning, no one has been killed, and people relax a little and start to whisper to one another. Later in the morning, the terrorists round up the hostages. They fear they will be killed, but it turns out they are being brought to the bathroom. The only person who seems to be in danger is Coss’s accompanist, Christopf, who looks pale and ill.

The narrator digresses to tell the story of Simon Thibault, a French ambassador, and his wife, Edith. For decades, Simon took his wife for granted. There were so many elegant women in Paris that his wife didn’t seem exceptional. But when he was stationed in what he and his wife call “this godforsaken country,” Simon fell utterly in love with her all over again. Now his heart leaps for her like it did when they were young.

The chatter among the hostages has increased so much that General Alfredo shoots at the ceiling in order to restore order. A moment later, someone knocks on the door. Joachim Messner, a Swiss representative of the Red Cross vacationing in the country, has been called in to negotiate between the government and the terrorists. He behaves calmly, as if he is chatting with his neighbors, not negotiating with terrorists. Through the help of Hosokawa’s translator, Gen Watanabe, Messner and the generals agree that all ill prisoners and women prisoners will be exchanged for food and other supplies the terrorists need.

Messner sees the wound on the vice president’s face and says it should be treated. Esmeralda, the governess for the vice president’s children, gets a needle and thread and gives them to Messner. But when Messner’s first attempt to stitch up the vice president’s face proves awkward, Esmeralda takes over and stitches the vice president’s face as if it were the most natural thing in the world. When she is done, the generals tell her and Messner to lie down. Messner says, “I don’t lie down,” and leaves.

The narrator briefly describes Monsignor Rolland, a high-ranking church official who has a good chance of becoming bishop one day. The narrator also describes Father Arguedas, a young priest and an opera-lover. When Arguedas was younger, his response to opera was so intense that he assumed it must be sinful. But after an older priest reassured him that it was not sinful, he decided his joy was a gift from God. Arguedas was able to attend Coss’s performance because a favorite cousin of the vice president pulled strings for him. Now, Father Arguedas is concerned about the young terrorists, and he suggests that one of them take a nap.

Victor Fyodorov, a high-ranking Soviet official, has been craving a cigarette since being taken hostage. He decides he can’t wait any longer, and he lights up. One of the terrorists rushes over, but he is not prepared to kill Fyodorov for smoking a cigarette, and after a few drags, Fyodorov puts out his cigarette and the terrorist puts away his gun.

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