Last week NPR aired Bel Canto – The Opera, based on the 2001 novel by Ann Patchett.
Coincidentally, I had picked up the novel at my neighborhood book box (what a great idea!) and had just finished it.
This lovely and charming book is set oddly– in a hostage crisis in a mythical country in South America (based on Peru’s Tupac Amaro takeover of the Japanese embassy in 1996-97).
In the novel, a world-renown opera singer is among the hostages, and comes to form a deep relationship with a Japanese businessman there, even though they share no common language other than classic opera. Each experiences a life-changing transformation during the time of captivity.
A middle-aged translator, also Japanese, comes to teach a young indigenous terrorist girl how to read, and speak Spanish, the language of Incan conquest.
As day leads on to week and then to months of captivity, the prisoners and their guards begin to relax and take on routines, including much music playing and singing. The arts are the vehicle here for revelation, for forgiveness, for solace, and even for romance.
The ethics can be summarized: when you reach out to try to understand others, you will be surprised to discover more similarities than differences, even considering race, gender, language, and other cultural barriers. We are all one, held back by our fears.
It’s a sublime novel. A movie is in the works, but as always, read the book first.
[Photo: Todd Rosenberg]