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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Three

Chapter Two

Chapter Four

Summary

As the women leave the building, the generals tell Roxanne Coss that she has to stay. She says she has had enough. She came to sing, and she did; she was told to sleep on the floor, and she did. But now she’s ready to leave. As an afterthought, she explains that she has to attend to Christopf, her accompanist, who has been allowed to leave because he is very ill.

The generals refuse to let Coss leave. Realizing she has lost the fight, she retreats. A moment later, Christopf returns. When he realizes that Coss will not been released, he decides to stay with her, despite his illness. Soon after, he sinks into a coma. Father Arguedas, fearing the worst, begins to say last rites for him.

Coss recalls her plane trip to South America with Christopf, who annoyed her by declaring his ardent love for her. Christopf was always an excellent accompanist, but Coss did not bother to learn much about him beyond that, and she did not enjoy being held captive to his confessions on the plane. In fact, she had tried to change her seat. Now, seeing Christopf ill, Coss feels guilty.

Christopf’s illness baffles everyone until Coss remember that he is diabetic. She searches his person and finds a hypodermic needle and an empty bottle of insulin. Almost immediately after Coss recalls Christopf’s condition, he dies. General Benjamin sees the dead accompanist and feels very sorry for him. He thinks of his brother in prison, and hopes that his brother will live to see freedom.

Hosokawa gives the weeping Roxanne Coss his handkerchief. Soon after, Hosokawa has Gen approach Coss to offer condolences on Hosokawa’s behalf and to apologize for Hosokawa’s part in bringing her to this country. Coss approaches Hosokawa and they communicate face-to-face for the first time. With Gen’s help, Coss says there is nothing to forgive.

The terrorists collect information from the hostages. They want to keep the important people, whose captivity will give them more bargaining power, and let others go. When some of the young terrorists begin to bicker, General Hector silences them by shooting the clock on the wall. In the meantime, the vice president walks around his living room, tidying up after everyone and making sure everyone is comfortable.

The terrorists release another group of captives. The remaining thirty-nine men and one woman, Roxanne Coss, realize that their ordeal will not end for a long time.

Analysis

Coss initially plays the role of the diva, behaving with both bravery and self-involvement. Bolder than anyone else in the room, she is not afraid to challenge generals with guns. But Coss also cares primarily about herself. The narrator says that of all the arguments Coss gives the generals in favor of her release, the least convincing is her suggestion that she needs to look after her sick accompanist.

Coss, in these chapters, is the diva who merely absorbs the awe and love of her fans without returning affection. She hardly registers that her accompanist, Christopf, is a person. They spend hours together each day, but she knows almost nothing about him or his personal life. When Christopf expresses his love for Coss on the plane, she reacts with annoyance. Coss is not unkind, she is just uninterested.

In this chapter, Hosokawa makes direct contact with Coss for the first time when he pays his condolences for Christopf’s death. The impulse to show kindness and affection in the face of death, which Hosokawa displays, will be a theme throughout the novel.

Patchett sets up an exploration of time when General Alfredo shoots the clock near the end of Chapter Three. Alfredo’s symbolic gesture literally stops the clock, a keeper of time, and metaphorically marks the end of normal time for the hostages and the captors, and the beginning of a time apart from the rest of the world.

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