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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Six

Chapter Five

Chapter Seven

Summary

The narrator says that before Roxanne began singing every morning, the hostages felt sad. They saw death everywhere, they missed their families, and they were under the generals’ control. On the morning Roxanne sings for the first time, the house is transformed. The generals lose some control, but they don’t really mind; they don’t have any reasonable plan for how to end the siege, so they are partly happy to give up some power. Roxanne practices every day for three hours in the morning and sometimes again in the late afternoon.

Hosokawa compares his old life, in which he was able to listen to opera for just an hour or so a day, and his new life, in which he listens to Coss sing in person. He recalls the hard times of his childhood: his mother’s death when he was ten years old, his father’s prolonged sadness. He thinks of his wife. He and she coexist well together, but now he wonders if he knows her at all. Hosokawa thinks about the fact that his wife reads mystery novels, but he has never thought to ask her about them, and she has never talked to him about them either. He wonders if he has ever made her happy.

When Beatriz asks Watanabe if it’s time for her soap opera yet, Watanabe gives her his watch. He finds that in this situation, where there is nowhere to go and no appointments to keep, the watch only bothers him. Watanabe begins to teach Beatriz how to tell time.

Viktor Fyodorov approaches Watanabe and asks him for a favor: he wants to speak to Coss. Watanabe agrees to help, but Fyodorov says that there is no rush; they can do it another day. The narrator explains that Fyodorov wants to declare his love for Coss, which Watanabe does not know. Watanabe stands at the window and watches Carmen. He is beginning to fall in love with her.

The same day Coss begins to sing, the government sends in boxes of raw foods instead of the prepared foods they have been sending. To Iglesias, this is a sign that the outside world may be forgetting about them. There is also a more immediate worry: who will prepare the food? Iglesias, who has taken up the responsibility of keeping the house neat and tidy, finds that he enjoys housekeeping and is better at it than he was at being vice president. But cooking food is a different matter. Iglesias decides to ask Coss for advice. He doesn’t expect the diva to help him cook, but he assumes she can at least offer him some advice. Coss is at first slightly offended that he would think to ask her but decides that it is a problem of cultural differences, and she tells him politely that she knows nothing about cooking.

Watanabe and Iglesias poll the men to find out who can cook. Thibault, an experienced cook, agrees to make the meal. He is faced with another question. How will they prepare the food if none of the hostages are allowed to have knives and all the knives from the kitchen have been confiscated? General Benjamin agrees to let Carmen and Beatriz chop the food for the dinner. General Benjamin asks Watanabe if he plays chess, and Watanabe says that Hosokawa is a good chess player. The general asks Watanabe to ask Hosokawa to play with him sometime.

Watanabe returns to the kitchen, and Carmen, Beatriz, and Ishamel soon follow. Thibault tells Ishmael he’s peeling the eggplant wrong, and asks for the knife so he can show him how to do it correctly. When Beatriz sees Thibault with a knife in his hand, she drops her own, grabs her gun, and points it at him. Thibault calmly asks Beatriz to let him show Ishmael how to cut up the eggplant. He says that Beatriz can shoot him and Watanabe if he uses the knife for any other purpose.

Watanabe does not appreciate the suggestion that he could be shot. But he stays in the kitchen just to be near Carmen. In a stolen moment, the two of them agree to meet in the china closet that night when everyone else is asleep to have their first reading and writing lesson.

Analysis

In this chapter, we learn that Hosokawa’s mother died when he was ten years old. One year after his mother’s death, when he was eleven, Hosokawa fell in love with opera when he went with his father to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. That opera tells the story of a father who loses his daughter. Perhaps Hosokawa, still raw from his mother’s death, found solace in an art form that makes exquisite music about passionate love, tragic death, and the loss of family.

Patchett juxtaposes Hosokawa’s memories of the deep pain of his childhood and the joy of opera with descriptions of the pleasant but bland relationship he has with his wife. Perhaps the trauma of losing his mother at a young age makes Hosokawa leery of forging deep connections to people. If he does not love anyone passionately, he does not risk a repetition of the despair he felt when his mother died. It seems possible that Hosokawa seeks out comfort, safety, and order in his human relationships and confines his passionate love to opera. But when opera suddenly fills his life in the person of Roxanne Coss, that detachment disappears.

In the tensest scene in Chapter Six, Beatriz points her gun at Thibault. Everyone is reminded that even though life has grown pleasant, the terrorists have guns, and death is still a possibility. But despite the danger, Thibault insists on treating the young terrorists as children, not as mortal threats. Earlier in the novel, he startled the terrorists by turning on the TV with the remote control. They responded by turning a gun on him. In this scene, he directly violates orders by asking the terrorists to trust him with a knife. Again, he finds himself threatened with a gun. Like Coss’s singing, which Hosokawa describes as “reckless and controlled,” Thibault’s commanding behavior is both risky and calm. His insistence on treating children as children is also evidence of his kindness.

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