S4L Book Club – Bel Canto

S4L Book Club, Bel Canto, by Ann PatchettQuestion 1: Even though he is given the opportunity to leave the mansion, Father Arguedas elects to stay with the hostages. Why does he decide to stay when he risks the possibility of being killed? As the narrative states, why did he feel, “in the midst of all this fear and confusion, in the mortal danger of so many lives, the wild giddiness of good luck?” (pg. 74). Isn’t this an odd reaction to have given the situation? What role does religion play in the story?

Question 2: There are numerous instances in the story where Mr. Hosokawa blames himself for the hostages’ situation. He says to Roxane, “But I was the one who set this whole thing in motion.” Roxane replies with the following: “Or did I?” she said. “I thought about declining…. Don’t get me wrong. I am very capable of blame. This is an event ripe for blame if I ever saw one. I just don’t blame you.” Is either one to blame for the situation? If not, who do you think is ultimately responsible?

Categories: Reading

14 replies »

  1. 1. I think if there had been a character who was a journalist, that character’s motivation’s to stay would have been similar to Father Arguedas’s. He stays because it is a chance to minister to those undergoing a crisis. It seems very natural to me that he stays.

    2. Mr. Hosokawa wouldn’t have been there without Roxane, and Roxane wouldn’t have been there without Mr. Hosokawa. It is a circular logic problem – Maybe that is part of what drew them together. However, I don’t think they bear any blame for the ultimate situation. If the generals hadn’t decided to kidnap the president, then nothing would have happened at the party; if there hadn’t been a party, theoretically, the generals would have tried to kidnap the president at a different event (of course, that would have been a different book).

  2. 1. Funny that you should compare Arguedas to a journalist–in my mind, I was comparing him to Wolf Blitzer in the first Iraq conflict! Not only does Arguedas stay to minister to the hostages, but he stays to feel important and earn some of the respect he doesn’t get on the outside in his own church. Coming out the situation alive will give him street cred, and I think he wants that.

    2. Blame is a slippery slope. I think it’s a futile path.

    I don’t think Roxane or Hosokawa are to blame at all, but I can understand their feelings of guilt, even if they don’t make rational sense.

    I can agree that the terrorists–the planners and those who carry out the plan–should bear the blame, but, then, do they all bear equal blame? Are the teenage terrorists as much to blame as the generals? They’re just following orders.

    And then I can hear the generals and planners claiming that the president or someone similar is to blame because he started it by putting some people in jail.

    The president says the people in jail started it.

    And on, and on, and on, no end.

    Blame is useless.

    Much credit to the one who says, “Enough. It’s over. The slate is clean.”

  3. First I want to answer the question about Roxanne.

    I agree, Jen, that her bearing as a person of status probably made her stand out…as someone to be recognized and reckoned with. But I think that, had she been practicing as an unknown throughout the ordeal, she still would have been treated as special. She had a rare gift. I think that people all over the world, regardless of social class and status, appreciate beauty. Even though I’m no fan of opera, sometimes when I hear an opera singer performing, it gives me pause. I soak it in.

    Roxanne’s voice was like that. The hostage situation was ugly for all involved. The terrorists didn’t get what they had worked so very hard for (the President), and the hostages were hostages. Yet in the midst of all their strife and discomfort, this incredible voice shone. Who wouldn’t admire that?

    And then there was the fact that, for months and months, Roxanne was the only woman there. (True, 2 of the terrorists were young women. But they were dressed manly and carried out their duties like men.) Here was a bit of femininity for all of the men to enjoy. Not only was the woman incredibly gifted, but she was of the opposite gender, and rather easy on the eye. How could the men resist being infatuated with her?

    More to follow on today’s questions.

  4. Hmm, Shelly. Interesting insights on the men’s reaction to Roxane.
    Kat and Jen, I think you have covered Father Arguedas’ motivation and the guilt issue well. I agree with all your points and really liked the comparison to a journalist!

  5. 1. Jen, my take on Father Arguedas was quite different. I agree that the hostage situation provided an opportunity to serve. But I don’t think he stayed “to feel important” or to get street cred. You could be right, but I didn’t get that vibe at all. I thought he was truly selfless and righteous. He felt quite limited in his opportunity to be a servant to the people in his current role in the church. What a perfect opportunity to serve the hostage situation was.

    2. Blame schmame. We get nowhere when we try to assign blame. I can understand how Roxane and Mr. Hosokawa both felt a sense of responsibility, but that’s not the same as blame/fault. Neither of those folks caused the situation.

  6. I definitely felt that Arguedas was motivated on both levels: to serve and to gain status. There were several passages where I thought I detected the latter–one that comes to mind was the glare from another priest presumably because Arguedas thought of staying when he did not. I thought it made the situation seem competitive, and Arguedas couldn’t help but be a little smug about winning. He believed it was a bad feeling to have, but he had it nonetheless.

    Anyhoo. I think it’s important to note that my views of the characters are not going to be overly kind. I didn’t love them.

  7. Hi Ladies, I struggle with my English, and just the want to be more than good enough for this….Sigh
    Anyway, I read the book in Norwegian and when mark text with “ta da” it is quotes from the book, but I hope that you will remember that things may get lost in translation! And Npn = Norwegian page number.
    In General:—
    I love opera, I have seen several, and I listen to it. But most of my time is spent in silence, just as several of you ladies.

    I think the author tried to write a book with all the elements I find in some kinds of (light) opera (Not Wagner). And as such it is a good resemblance in some part, but does not have it all, in my opinion.

    About Roxanne:—
    Roxanne plays a real part as a wonderful singer and as a special carrier of (she embodies )
    * the music-theme
    * the love-metaphor in different aspects throughout the book.
    * the metaphor of the ability to gestalt (make new roles/parts how to act in new situations
    * the contrast of Success and failure
    * the metaphor of normality or adaption of it
    * the metaphor of gender
    and some more allegation 🙂 I have marked parts of the text that support my allegations, sigh! To -prove- how I can have such thoughts…

    About the music:—
    The use of music as building blocks of the story and the drama: I think (hope) the opera look alike can be described like this:

    The book has blocks that divides the story in tempo (different speed) and different parts where conflict is at rest and conflict is crucial. The drama ends with a very much look a like opera crescendo: shooting and blood and losses!

    In my opinion it should have ended here! In Opera “everybody” dies, at least those who love each other. The best love theme is the one where the main characters does not get each other! – Roxanne does not get Hosokawa! Gen does not get Carmen
    (what a name! Just from some Opera… and she is also very very beautiful… She plays an important part in this book as a carrier of some of the theme similar to Roxanne-I think)

    The love theme is carried a bit too far, and I do agree with Fader Arquedas, that the wedding of Gen and Roxanne “is too early”. And may be it saves the book, because they share the losses of the greatest love and of a very defining experience in life…

    But the musical postludium does not quite work for me, I am sorry. Gen has told us in the book that he does not love the singer..just to give the love theme more credability since -everybody falls in love with her…

  8. I find Fader Arguedas very reliable. He is struggling with the thought that listening to opera is a sin but his reverent tells him he is still young, and perhaps he should listen mostly to the music and not translate the lyrics (This made me laugh. And in some aspects this is important in the book. It is naïve to just relate to half the story- and the hostages do tend to forget the real life outside and sees just half of the truth/reality. Therefore is he important as a carrier of hope and delution! The generals are deluted as well… )

    I do not find fader Arguedas as hungry for attentions in the way journalists does, not at all. I have the impression that he has a very strong and- true religious calling-. He genuinely wants to be there for them in a religious matter, that he wants to be able to do the right thing and to be helpful in a very trial of life for this group of people.

    Fader Arguedas and Roxanne are the only people who do their normal activities in the period of being hostages; Roxanne sings, are devoted and adored, she gives lessons! Farder Arguedas works as catholic priest. All the others waits and some find new tasks to do. (due to * the metaphor of the ability to gestalt (make new roles/parts how to act in new situations * the contrast of Success and failure * the metaphor of normality or adaption of it)

    Fader Arguedas is important for the theme hostage-terrorist and love:
    When terrorist solider Beatriz comes to confess, she are given lessons to be nice. This makes it possible for the love-meeting between Roxanne and Hosokawa. It makes it possible to establish some hooks on her solider college Carmen as well.

    (Beatriz is important in the gender theme. She is a female contrast to Roxanne and to Carmen. We are to acknowledge that beauty is more valuable than “boyish act and clothing” Carmen is tender and beautiful and lovable and …. I find this a bit shallow and archetype as characters. Beatriz does not develop but Carmen does, she is also intelligent!)

    The religious theme in the book:
    We are told that some of the persons make plans for the future where they involve each other’s regardless of hostage-terrorist roles. This is naïve, and may be part of the ability to believe in something when the situation is so different from ordinary life? But they truly forget the ugly part a terrorist plays, and they are reminded of this by J. Messner. It is an example of the well-known Stockholm-Syndrome, where hostages relates and bonds to the terrorists. Anyway, I think the music theme plays lauder in the book…

  9. If I am allowed to be a bit harsh:
    Fader Arguedas is also important carrier of the success-failure theme:
    He is the only male character that is successful in doing his normal business and gaining credits for it.
    All the others are watching their life biographies as a hostage: in ordinary life you were a success and as hostage a failure, because it is so much they cannot do: (Npn 113) (and everybody wanted to be the piano player, but only one was able to: T. Kato)

  10. Wow, Harriet! Trust me, your English is up to the task! (And without the OED- or did you take it off the shelf?) You have provided a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of several points. It will take some time and thought to respond, but I wanted to comment on the great job!

  11. I’m so glad at least one of us is an opera lover. I have a question about this on my list.

    While I can’t give the story any special credit for the crescendo to the climax (all stories operate on that principle), I absolutely LOVE the idea of stopping the story when everybody dies! My dad is an opera lover, too, and he says the same thing, “Everyone dies in an opera.”

    Do you suppose the author made the final section an epilogue in an effort to sort of have the story end with the deaths? And if so, doesn’t the epilogue sort of spoil the operatic ending?

    This didn’t occur to me before Harriet mentioned it, but now I think that idea might, indeed, be best. I think the story should have ended with the deaths, mimicking an opera. *That* would have been clever and even poetic, I think.

  12. I think I agree that the book would have best ended with the deaths. I knew all along that Carmen would die. but did not anticipate Mr. Hosakowa dying- nor did I see his self-sacrifice (another operatic element) coming. The epilogue was something of a let down. Opera definitely doesn’t do denoument.

  13. Thank you for reciving my notes so well, it makes me want to try more. In truth, it was hard work, and I hope I am up for more. The challenge is that you write so many wise things to check up and to think about and …to write a comment about 😉 It is indeed very stimulating and very hard in energy and time. The next book we will discuss in Italian, since no on here knows that language? Just kidding 😉 I have checked Fader A, and yes he is shallow and ambitious! Arrgh. Now I do not like him either, and I really really needed someone not to be shallow in this book! Sigh more to read, more to write!

  14. Harriet, it’s okay to address only a few parts of the discussion; you don’t have to do them all. I understand wanting to, though!

    Regarding Father Arguedas’s sometimes selfish ambitions, I don’t despise him for that. Rather, I give the author credit for making him believable and more developed. If he were all saintly, I think he’d be boring and artificial, like Dickens’s sticky-sweet female characters. I think having faults makes Arguedas more interesting, likable, and real.