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Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963. Her mother
was a nurse and her father was a police officer. Patchett earned
her bachelor of arts from Sarah Lawrence College and her masters
in creative writing from the University of Iowa.
Bel Canto, Patchett’s fourth novel, was
published in 2001. The novel was originally inspired by an incident
that took place in December 1996, when a group of fourteen terrorists
took over the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru. The terrorists held
seventy-two hostages for four months before government troops stormed
the building and killed all the terrorists. One hostage and two
soldiers were also killed. Patchett’s novel focuses not on the political
underpinnings of the hostage crisis, but on the kinds of relationships
that might have developed between the hostages themselves and between
the hostages and the terrorists during those four months of captivity.
Patchett had read news reports that described the hostages and terrorists
playing chess and soccer, and ordering out for large pizzas. These
details were the seeds of Bel Canto, which won
the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize.
Patchett has said that Bel Canto was
inspired most directly by Thomas Mann’s classic novella The
Magic Mountain. In Mann’s novella, a man visits a sanitarium
for patients with tuberculosis and finds that isolation and proximity
to death heightens his senses, increases his sexual desire, and
causes him to think more deeply about life. In Patchett’s novel,
the four months of captivity enable both hostages and terrorists
to experience life more vividly and profoundly.
On the surface, Patchett’s life seems unrelated to the
story she tells in her novel Bel Canto. But Patchett
shares some of the feelings of her character Roxanne Coss, who is
adored by strangers who don’t really know her. During interviews
about Bel Canto, Patchett has talked about the
disconnect she feels between her book tours, where fans greet her
with adulation, and her normal life, where she sticks to an everyday
routine—writing, taking care of her grandmother, and hanging out
with her dog.
In addition to Bel Canto, Patchett has
written three novels and one memoir about a friendship. Her first
novel, The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), is
about a young woman who gets pregnant, flees her marriage, and goes
to a home for unwed mothers run by nuns. Patchett’s second novel, Taft (1994),
is set in a Memphis blues bar. It tells the story of a black man
who gives up his dreams of being a drummer in order to manage a
bar and make enough money to please his wife. The Magician’s
Assistant (1997), Patchett’s third novel,
tells the story of a woman who is married to the gay magician she
assists. Patchett’s memoir, ‘Truth and Beauty,’
A Tale of Friendship (2004), is about Lucy Grealy, a writer
and a dear friend of Patchett’s. The memoir, written after Grealy’s
suicide, describes Patchett’s relationship with Grealy as the central
sustaining relationship of Patchett’s life.
Patchett lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bel Canto!