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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Five

Chapter Four

Chapter Six

Summary

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.”

A few hours later, Messner comes back with the sheet music. General Alfredo, feeling that discipline has become too lax, decides that Messner must be told to come back tomorrow. Coss says that if she is not allowed to have the music immediately, she will never sing again. Even the generals are in love with her voice, and they agree to let her have the music.

Coss decides to begin practicing the next day, but Kato sits down to play right away. Once again the house fills with music. The narrator says that this is the happiest time of Carmen’s life. The music and the beauty of the house are wonders she never dreamed of when she was a child. She prays that God will see the beauty of their present existence and let them stay.

That night, Carmen finds the courage to approach Watanabe with a request. When everyone is asleep, she lies down next to Watanabe, prays to Saint Rose for the words she needs, and then wakes him and asks him to teach her to read and write Spanish. He says he will.

Analysis

In this chapter, we see both the trouble people have communicating with one another, and the ingenious ways they manage to communicate without language. Coss and Kato communicate with each other through their music. Coss and Hosokawa express their affection without words. Simply by being together, they communicate the closeness they feel for each other. Coss gets across her energy and her reliance on Hosokawa. Hosokawa gets across his steadiness and his reassuring friendship. Patchett suggests that humans want to connect to one another so badly that they will find ways to do it even when they lack a common language.

For many of the characters, this time in captivity will be the most precious of their lives. Father Arguedas, for example, feels luckier than his professor friend, and Carmen prays to God that the captivity will never end.

Much of Chapter Five focuses on the power and the limitations of language. Watanabe is kept busy translating for the captives and the terrorists, who need him in order to communicate with one another. At the end of the chapter, Watanabe agrees to give Carmen reading and writing lessons.

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