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Opera diva Roxanne Coss has come to a small Latin American country
to perform at the birthday party of Katsumi Hosokawa, the head of
a major Japanese electronics company. Officials of this Latin American
company have wooed Hosokawa to the home of the country’s vice president
with the promise of Coss’s performance. They hope that their hospitality
will prompt Hosokawa to agree to build a factory in the country.
But Hosokawa has no interest in building a factory. He has only
come because he loves opera and loves Coss’s voice.
As soon as Coss has finished her last song, all of the
lights go out in the vice president’s home. A band of terrorists
rush into the living room, where the guests are assembled, and demand
that the president of the country come forward. It turns out that
the president is not at the party; he has stayed home to watch a
popular soap opera on television. Thwarted in their original intentions
and lacking a fallback plan, the terrorists begin a standoff with
The next day, a representative from the Red Cross, Joachim Messner,
arrives to act as a negotiator between the terrorists and the government.
The terrorists agree that in return for supplies they will release
the workers, the sick, and the women. The only woman they refuse
to give up is Roxanne Coss. When Coss’s accompanist realizes that
Coss has been detained, he insists on staying with her, although
he is terribly ill. A diabetic, he soon dies from lack of insulin.
During the next four months, life takes surprising turns
for the better. The hostages realize that aside from the three generals
in charge, all of the terrorists are children or young teenagers.
The hostages begin to act parental with the young terrorists. They
also discover that two of the terrorists are girls. Because the
hostages and terrorists speak many different languages, they rely
on Gen Watanabe, Hosokawa’s translator, to translate for them. He
is kept very busy translating various conversations.
After a few weeks, Coss decides she needs to practice
singing. It turns out that one of the hostages, a hardworking executive
in Hosokawa’s company, is an excellent pianist. He and Coss begin
to practice together every day. The beauty of Coss’s singing makes
the hostages and terrorists feel almost lucky to be trapped.
As the weeks and months stretch on, most of the hostages
and the terrorists begin to enjoy their lives. Two love affairs
blossom. One is between Hosokawa and Coss, and another is between
Watanabe, Hosokawa’s translator, and one of the female terrorists,
Carmen. This second love affair begins when Carmen asks Watanabe
to teach her how to read and write. Watanabe agrees and meets Carmen
in secret at night in a china closet. No one else knows about their
lessons or their love. Other close relationships form: General Benjamin,
the leader of the terrorists, begins to play chess with Hosokawa,
and the vice president of the country, Ruben Iglesias, becomes increasingly
fond of Ishmael, one of the young terrorists. Iglesias even envisions
After several months, a persistent fog lifts. One morning,
Cesar, one of the young terrorists, starts to sing. Everyone is
amazed at how gifted he is. Coss begins to give him singing lessons.
Around the same time, the generals begin to allow the hostages outside
to enjoy the yard. There they run around, play soccer, and garden.
A French ambassador, Simon Thibault, is deeply in love
with his wife and longs for the hostage crisis to end. He is the
only one who feels this way. The rest of the hostages and the terrorists
grow happier and happier. They no longer fear one another. They
fear what will happen when their captivity ends.
Messner, the Red Cross representative, continues to be
the sole outsider to visit the mansion. He, too, grows fond of the
terrorists. The terrorists try to forget about what will happen
to them in the end, but Messner tries to convince them to surrender.
He tells them repeatedly that there is no other hope, but they refuse
to listen, since they know that surrendering will mean imprisonment
and, most likely, death. After four months have passed, government
troops storm the mansion and kill all the terrorists, including
Carmen. By accident, they kill Hosokawa, who is trying to protect
Carmen from the soldiers’ bullets.
The novel ends with an epilogue in which Coss and Watanabe marry.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bel Canto!