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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Chapter Nine

Chapter Eight

Chapter Ten

Summary

The next morning, Coss does not come down for her usual morning practice. Hoskowa is asleep in the living room. Coss’s absence reminds Kato that one day his life as an accompanist will be over, and he will have to go back to being a businessman. As Kato begins to play the piano, something surprising happens. Cesar, a young and unexceptional terrorist, begins to sing. Everyone is struck silent by his immense talent. Coss comes downstairs. She, too, is struck by his voice. Cesar clearly hasn’t been trained, and when he is about to hit a note Coss fears is too high and hard for him, she quickly stops him from singing in order to prevent him from embarrassing himself.

Everyone cries “bravo,” but Cesar, believing he’s made a fool of himself, runs outside and climbs up a tree to hide. Coss sends Carmen to reassure him, but Cesar refuses to come down. Coss asks Carmen if she would ask General Benjamin to allow Coss to go outside to speak to Cesar. No hostages have ever been allowed outside. As Carmen approaches Benjamin, he smells the lemon shampoo that Coss has washed Carmen’s hair with. The lemon reminds him of his childhood and his brother. Impetuously, he decides to let not just Coss but all the hostages go outside.

The sensation of being outdoors overwhelms the hostages. Coss talks to Cesar, and they agree that she will give him singing lessons. Lothar Falken, a hostage who was once a runner, begins running circles around the garden. Soon others follow him, enjoying the first physical exertion in months.

Mendoza and Iglesias talk about the young terrorist Ishmael, who is within earshot. Iglesias says that when the siege is over he wants to adopt Ishmael, and Mendoza says he wants to give him a position in his company. They sound like they are joking, but the narrator says that they are also serious. In their hearts, the men consider the orphan Ishmael a son. Ishmael knows he shouldn’t take such joking seriously, but in his heart he believes what the men say. Father Arguedas, who hears the conversation, thinks that the men shouldn’t indulge in such fantasies, but he wishes their fantasies could come true.

Analysis

The morning after Coss and Hosokawa sleep together for the first time, a child, Cesar, comes into Coss’s life. While Cesar is not truly the product of Coss and Hosokawa’s relationship, Coss does adopt him in a figurative sense. She takes him under her wing and promises to teach him to sing.

Cesar’s talent for singing, which has been hidden until this point, reinforces the theme that beauty and longing and passion exist in everyone. These qualities are easily lost, however, and difficult to express in the first place. When they manage to come to the surface, as when Cesar sings, it feels like something of a miracle.

The final scene of this chapter is one of the most touching in the novel. In it, both the possibility of love and the possibility of loss seem close at hand. Ishmael, Iglesias, Mendoza, and Father Arguedas attempt to remain logical and to protect their own feelings, but all of them long to believe that love will conquer all. Their illogical optimism induces a feeling of dread.

The characters’ situation suggests that if we love deeply, we open ourselves up to deep suffering. They know this to be true, but they can’t rein in their strong affection for each other. The opera Rusalka, the music of which makes up the centerpiece of Coss’s repertoire, echoes the plight of the characters. In Rusalka, a water goddess who loves a human prince asks a witch give her human form. But her transformation comes with a curse: when her human lover is untrue, she becomes a figure of the underworld, and her embrace turns deadly. When her lover repents and begs for her love, they embrace with the knowledge that that embrace will kill him. In the same way, the captors and captives of Bel Canto have transformed, shedding their original roles in order to love one another. In this chapter, Patchett hints that their transformations will lead to unhappiness.

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