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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Eight

Chapter Seven

Chapter Nine

Summary

Hosokawa sits in the sitting room with General Benjamin and plays chess. This has become a routine of theirs. Hosokawa thinks about how much his life has changed. The things that used to be important to him, like his business and his family, no longer seem to matter. He thinks about the fondness he feels for the general. He thinks about how wonderful it is to listen to Coss sing for hours every day, and to sit near her and laugh with her. It would be impossible to explain to the rest of the world how happy he is.

Messner arrives, but General Benjamin does not want to stop playing chess. Coss escorts Messner out. Messner tells Coss that because of her captivity, she has become so famous that she could double or even triple her price for performances if she is freed. This news thrills Coss. The narrator tells us that Messner has come to be fond of the terrorists. He knows they are bound to lose the standoff with the government and wishes the terrorists could escape through the air conditioner vents, the way they came in.

Iglesias walks into the sitting room where Ishmael, a young terrorist, is playing chess. General Benjamin expresses pride in the boy’s intelligence. In the hall, Iglesias offers the general a bottle of antibiotics. Iglesias had taken the antibiotics after General Alfredo struck him in the face with his gun, and now he offers them as a salve for the shingles that rage across General Benjamin’s face. Skeptical, the general asks if he can trust the vice president. Iglesias swallows one of the pills to show he means well.

Back in the main room, Father Arguedas is hearing confessions. Oscar Mendoza, the businessman and friend of Iglesias, tells the priest he dreams that boys are having sex with his daughters, and that he returns home and kills them all. What he wants more than absolution is the reassurance that his daughters are safe. Next, Beatriz confesses. She confesses not because her sins weigh on her but because she is bored and irritable, and because she likes the attention and kindness she gets from Father Arguedas. Though she does not plan to stop sinning—the generals wouldn’t allow it, and anyway, she doesn’t want to—she likes the idea of a cycle of sinning and forgiveness. Father Arguedas tells her that as part of her repentance, she has to try to be kind for a day. She agrees to try.

That afternoon, Watanabe and Carmen meet and embrace. Watanabe relays a request from Coss: she wants Carmen to bring Hosokawa to her that night. If Carmen agrees to help Coss, she risks losing the trust of the generals, her place in the organization, and maybe her life. But Coss has been kind to her, sometimes even braiding her hair as a mother or sister would, and she wishes to return that kindness. She agrees to help.

That night, when everyone else is asleep, Carmen takes Hosokawa to Coss’s room. As they pass through one of the rooms, Beatriz sees them and points her gun at Hosokawa. Carmen explains the situation and begs Beatriz not to tell. Beatriz, who was asleep on duty, would get in trouble if Carmen reported her. She also remembers that she told the priest she would try to be kind for the day. She agrees not to tell.

After escorting Hosokawa to Coss’s door, Carmen finds Watanabe. She leads him outside into the yard, where they have sex for the first time.

Analysis

This chapter sees the consummation of two relationships; it also suggests the limitations of love. In Chapter Seven, it becomes clear that falling in love has changed Coss. But in Chapter Eight, we see that love has not changed Coss beyond recognition. Her ambition and her thirst for recognition remain intact, and she is thrilled by the news that captivity has only increased her fame. Love has not erased these essential aspects of Coss’s personality.

By reminding us that love does not sweep away considerations of the outside world (like the desire for fame), Patchett injects a dose of reality into the idyll of captivity. Another reminder that the outside world has not disappeared comes during Iglesias’s interaction with General Benjamin. The vice president and the general are both profoundly likable characters. They are also drawn together by the tenderness and pride they feel for Ishmael, one of the brightest of the young terrorists. Both act fatherly toward him. In a different situation, Iglesias and Benjamin would likely be good friends. Despite their similarities, however, there are barriers between the two men that all the glorious singing and the love of children in the world cannot break down. Iglesias and Benjamin might coexist in the house without coming to blows, but neither man ever forgets that Benjamin’s brother has been imprisoned by the government that Iglesias represents.

Even Watanabe and Carmen’s relationship, consummated in this chapter, does not seem likely to end happily. Carmen optimistically hopes that her love for Watanabe will overcome the fact that she is a terrorist and the man she loves is a hostage. When Watanabe asks her to break the rules and help Coss, Carmen is momentarily forced to face reality. She realizes she is caught between two rival groups, and that siding with her lover could be dangerous.

Despite intimations of encroaching reality, the world of captivity remains a charmed one. At the end of this chapter, Watanbe and Carmen are transformed by their love for each other. In the garden, they are not the shy, scared people they’ve always been in the world; they are confident and in love.

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