In an aside, the narrator explains that Hosokawa first met his translator, Gen Watanabe, at a business conference in Greece. Watanabe, who can predict Hosokawa’s needs even before Hosokawa himself knows them, has become indispensable to Hosokawa.

The generals who head the terrorist group ask for President Masuda to come forward. When the vice president tells them he is not at the party, one of the generals hits him in the face with the butt of his gun. But when the vice president explains that President Masuda stayed home to watch his soap opera, the explanation seems too absurd to be a lie, and the vice president is not harmed further. The generals realize they have no backup plan.


In the opening scene of the novel, the simultaneous blackout and kiss serve as symbols of love in the face of death and connection in the face of loss. Together they introduce a central theme of the novel: the basic human impulse to love despite, and because of, the knowledge of inevitable loss and death. This theme also points to the novel’s inspirations: opera, most directly, which features many stories about happiness ending in death, and Greek tragedy, more indirectly, from which the tradition of opera grows. In Greek tragedy, characters struggle to live their lives honorably despite impending disaster.

The blackout is also something of a wink to the audience—an acknowledgment that a story is being told. The blackout happens right after Coss’s performance ends. When the lights go on, a new drama begins, the drama that unfolds during the four months when the hostages are held captive. By starting and ending her novel with the extinguishing of lights, Patchett recalls the conventions of theater and acknowledges the artificiality of her story.

A brief description of Bel Canto makes the novel sound like a political thriller, but Patchett is just as concerned with the nuances of her characters as she is with plot. The first chapter sets up the precedent for the rest of the novel, in which the narrator moves from character to character, delving into the emotions and histories of each one. In Chapter One, frequent digressions lead us away from the main action and into the histories of several characters. From the outset, Patchett suggests that whatwill matter most in this story is not the action, but the characters, and the relationships that form between them. In Chapter One, Patchett violates a standard thriller convention by giving away the end of the story. The narrator explains that the hostages will live and the terrorists will die. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator repeatedly says that in order for the characters to believe that their love for one another and their happiness together can last, they have to stop thinking about the future. They must forget about the fact that some of them are hostages and some of them are terrorists, and forget that government troops are bound to attack the terrorists and sever the ties they’ve formed. By telling us how the novel is going to end, Patchett puts us in the same position as her characters. She asks us to take pleasure in the ties the characters form, even though we know that the novel will end in tragedy and death.

In reminding us that tragedy awaits, Patchett also follows in the tradition of Greek tragedy, in which the chorus sees and knows more than the other characters and often sounds a note of caution. In this novel, the narrator takes on the role of the chorus.