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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Seven

Chapter Six

Chapter Eight

Summary

In the middle of November, the garua, or heavy fog, lifts, and everything seems bright. The generals clip out articles about the hostage situation from the newspapers, but the hostages have heard snippets on the TV news about a tunnel being dug underground to free them. The idea of a tunnel seems so far-fetched that no one believes it.

Coss sings with even greater beauty and intensity than she did before she became a hostage. She sings “as if she [is] saving the life of every person in the room.”

Watanabe and Carmen continue to meet in the china closet. Watanabe thinks about how wonderful and absurd it is that he has fallen in love with a woman not from one of the many big cities that he has visited, but from a village in the jungle. He marvels at the fact that his love dresses in army fatigues, carries a gun, and has taken him hostage.

One day Watanabe and Carmen are talking in the bathroom. Carmen suggests that they forget about the outside world and make this their home. Just then, Watanabe hears Fyodorov calling him and steps out of the bathroom to see what he wants. Fyodorov has finally summoned up his courage to declare his love for Coss. Watanabe doesn’t know about Fyodorov’s love, and he is reluctant to leave Carmen. But he agrees and sneaks back to tell Carmen he has to go. Before he leaves, Watanabe says that of course the siege will end. Carmen sheds a few tears, and Watanabe and Carmen kiss for the first time.

Watanabe and Fyodorov go to talk to Coss. Fyodorov is so nervous that he has to sit down. Nonetheless, he manages to give an eloquent speech. He begins to explain how moved he was by opera when he was a university student. Then he backs up and tells Coss about the precious art book his grandmother had. She would pull it out in the evenings and show her children and grandchildren how to appreciate beauty. In contrast to the struggles of most people living in the Soviet Union, the beauty of these paintings was overwhelming. Fyodorov tells Coss that he loves her, but he expects nothing in return. He just wanted to tell her. “Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think?” he asks.

Coss thanks him. Watanabe felt awkward during Fyodorov’s speech, but he notices that Coss doesn’t seem uncomfortable. He realizes that people have probably fallen in love with her throughout her life.

The chapter ends with Cesar, one of the young terrorists, thinking about wanting to make love to Coss. Like all the other young terrorist boys, he gets an erection when he hears her sing. But Cesar thinks that it’s not just Coss he wants to make love to, but the music itself.

Analysis

In much of literature, the lifting of fog symbolizes the end of hard times. In Bel Canto, the lifting of fog symbolizes the end of the characters’ total isolation. The literal cocoon that has surrounded the vice president’s mansion is gone, and the outside world is close at hand. One kind of exposure is quickly followed by another: right after the fog lifts, we learn about the tunnel the government is purportedly digging to the mansion. The characters, unwilling to face the possibility that their idyll will soon end, decide to ignore the rumors of a tunnel.

For Carmen and Watanabe, the possibility that the hostage situation will end is an inducement to speed up their relationship. They kiss for the first time not when they are talking about happy plans for their future together, but when they are discussing the likelihood that their time together will come to an end. Their fear that they will soon lose each other intensifies their feelings.

Fyodorov declares his love to Coss without hoping she will return his feelings. Fyodorov is a faintly foolish man, sweaty and nervous, and his protestations of love are something of a burden to Coss. Nonetheless, he overcomes his anxiety to tell a moving, eloquent story about how he came to love beauty. He also makes a strong case that Coss should respect those who can appreciate her singing. Some, like Coss, can express their passion publicly; others, like Kato, express it in secret; others, like Fyodor, cannot express it at all. They are the audience, and they rely on performers to express beauty and suffering for them. But, Fyodorov says, their reliance on performers does not mean that they do not feel the same intensity or are not moved by love and loss just as the artist is.

Patchett has said that art is created in the interaction between the artist and the audience. This idea is an important theme in the novel. Coss’s singing is made more important because people listen to it and are changed by it. Without them, it wouldn’t mean much. In this chapter, Patchett acknowledges that the gifted are not only those who make great art but also those who appreciate it. In the same way, love grows from both the lover and the beloved. Thibault loves his wife because of who she is, but also because of what he feels at particular moments, and how his experiences shape him.

Coss’s patience with Fyodorov’s declaration of love contrasts with her early irritation with her besotted accompanist. Captivity has made her more appreciative of her admirers. Another change in Coss is evident when she tells Watanabe that it is flattering to be loved for what you can do, but better to be loved for who you are. She is referring to Hosokawa with these comments; he is the unnamed man who loves her for who she is, instead of for her talent.

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