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The narrator says that before Roxanne began singing every
morning, the hostages felt sad. They saw death everywhere, they
missed their families, and they were under the generals’ control.
On the morning Roxanne sings for the first time, the house is transformed. The
generals lose some control, but they don’t really mind; they don’t
have any reasonable plan for how to end the siege, so they are partly
happy to give up some power. Roxanne practices every day for three
hours in the morning and sometimes again in the late afternoon.
Hosokawa compares his old life, in which he was able to
listen to opera for just an hour or so a day, and his new life,
in which he listens to Coss sing in person. He recalls the hard
times of his childhood: his mother’s death when he was ten years
old, his father’s prolonged sadness. He thinks of his wife. He and
she coexist well together, but now he wonders if he knows her at
all. Hosokawa thinks about the fact that his wife reads mystery
novels, but he has never thought to ask her about them, and she
has never talked to him about them either. He wonders if he has
ever made her happy.
When Beatriz asks Watanabe if it’s time for her soap opera
yet, Watanabe gives her his watch. He finds that in this situation,
where there is nowhere to go and no appointments to keep, the watch
only bothers him. Watanabe begins to teach Beatriz how to tell time.
Viktor Fyodorov approaches Watanabe and asks him for a
favor: he wants to speak to Coss. Watanabe agrees to help, but Fyodorov says
that there is no rush; they can do it another day. The narrator explains
that Fyodorov wants to declare his love for Coss, which Watanabe
does not know. Watanabe stands at the window and watches Carmen.
He is beginning to fall in love with her.
The same day Coss begins to sing, the government sends
in boxes of raw foods instead of the prepared foods they have been
sending. To Iglesias, this is a sign that the outside world may
be forgetting about them. There is also a more immediate worry:
who will prepare the food? Iglesias, who has taken up the responsibility
of keeping the house neat and tidy, finds that he enjoys housekeeping
and is better at it than he was at being vice president. But cooking
food is a different matter. Iglesias decides to ask Coss for advice.
He doesn’t expect the diva to help him cook, but he assumes she
can at least offer him some advice. Coss is at first slightly offended
that he would think to ask her but decides that it is a problem
of cultural differences, and she tells him politely that she knows
nothing about cooking.
Watanabe and Iglesias poll the men to find out who can
cook. Thibault, an experienced cook, agrees to make the meal. He
is faced with another question. How will they prepare the food if
none of the hostages are allowed to have knives and all the knives
from the kitchen have been confiscated? General Benjamin agrees
to let Carmen and Beatriz chop the food for the dinner. General
Benjamin asks Watanabe if he plays chess, and Watanabe says that
Hosokawa is a good chess player. The general asks Watanabe to ask
Hosokawa to play with him sometime.
Watanabe returns to the kitchen, and Carmen, Beatriz,
and Ishmael soon follow. Thibault tells Ishmael he’s peeling the
eggplant wrong, and asks for the knife so he can show him how to
do it correctly. When Beatriz sees Thibault with a knife in his
hand, she drops her own, grabs her gun, and points it at him. Thibault
calmly asks Beatriz to let him show Ishmael how to cut up the eggplant.
He says that Beatriz can shoot him and Watanabe if he uses the knife
for any other purpose.
Watanabe does not appreciate the suggestion that he could
be shot. But he stays in the kitchen just to be near Carmen. In
a stolen moment, the two of them agree to meet in the china closet
that night when everyone else is asleep to have their first reading
and writing lesson.
In this chapter, we learn that Hosokawa’s mother died
when he was ten years old. One year after his mother’s death, when
he was eleven, Hosokawa fell in love with opera when he went with
his father to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. That
opera tells the story of a father who loses his daughter. Perhaps
Hosokawa, still raw from his mother’s death, found solace in an
art form that makes exquisite music about passionate love, tragic
death, and the loss of family.
Patchett juxtaposes Hosokawa’s memories of the deep pain
of his childhood and the joy of opera with descriptions of the pleasant but
bland relationship he has with his wife. Perhaps the trauma of losing
his mother at a young age makes Hosokawa leery of forging deep connections
to people. If he does not love anyone passionately, he does not
risk a repetition of the despair he felt when his mother died. It
seems possible that Hosokawa seeks out comfort, safety, and order
in his human relationships and confines his passionate love to opera.
But when opera suddenly fills his life in the person of Roxanne
Coss, that detachment disappears.
In the tensest scene in Chapter Six, Beatriz points her
gun at Thibault. Everyone is reminded that even though life has
grown pleasant, the terrorists have guns, and death is still a possibility.
But despite the danger, Thibault insists on treating the young terrorists as
children, not as mortal threats. Earlier in the novel, he startled
the terrorists by turning on the TV with the remote control. They responded
by turning a gun on him. In this scene, he directly violates orders
by asking the terrorists to trust him with a knife. Again, he finds
himself threatened with a gun. Like Coss’s singing, which Hosokawa
describes as “reckless and controlled,” Thibault’s commanding behavior
is both risky and calm. His insistence on treating children as children
is also evidence of his kindness.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bel Canto!