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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Five

Chapter Four

Chapter Five, page 2

page 1 of 2


Almost everyone needs Watanabe, Hosokawa’s translator, in order to communicate. The generals decide to make him their secretary. He will help them draft letters and write up plans. Many of the hostages request Watanabe to interpret when they want to talk to one another. When Kato and Coss talk about their plans to procure sheet music and to practice together, Watanabe translates for them.

Messner, the Red Cross representative, regularly visits the mansion. Instead of carrying on intense negotiations between the terrorists and the government, Messner acts as a gofer for Coss, fetching her dental floss, a muffler, throat lozenges, and other items. He is routinely searched before he enters, and during one of these searches, one of the young terrorists can’t resist tickling his ribs.

We learn that General Benjamin was a schoolteacher until his brother was arrested and imprisoned for handing out flyers for a political protest. After that, Benjamin joined the terrorist group La Familia de Martin Suarez, named after a ten-year-old boy who was shot dead while handing out flyers for a political rally. General Benjamin has left behind his wife and children to conduct this takeover.

Coss and Kato talk about getting sheet music so they can practice. Father Arguedas is thrilled to learn that he can get the music they need from a friend, Manuel, a music teacher with an extensive music library. The generals agree to allow Father Arguedas to make one phone call to Manuel. During the conversation, Manuel says he heard that Coss’s accompanist was murdered and his hands were cut off. For a moment, Father Arguedas thinks to defend the terrorists. Father Arguedas puts Roxanne Coss on the phone so that she can give Manuel the list of music she desires. Father Arguedas recognizes that this is a thrilling moment for him and for his friend. He imagines a time in the future when he and Manuel will sit around the kitchen table recalling the moment they were able to help the famous opera singer. When that time comes, Father Arguedas will “know that he had been the more fortunate of the two because it was he whom she had looked at when she spoke.”

As soon as Father Arguedas hangs up the phone, Simon Thibault grabs it, although he has not been given permission to do so. He calls his home and leaves a message on the answering machine telling his wife that he loves her.

Watanabe and Messner chat. As they talk, Watanabe notices Carmen looking at him. He also notices how beautiful she is. He and Messner approach Carmen and ask her if she speaks Spanish. She says that Quecha, a language spoken throughout South America, is her first language. She says she is trying to improve her Spanish. Carmen speaks softly and briefly, and after they leave her, Messner notes that it is not often “you meet a shy terrorist.”

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