thumbnail of The Fine Print; Program 01 11 Guest Ann Patchett Book Bel Canto
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
from national public radio this is the fine print and exploration and celebration of the written word i'm always in a great state of anticipatory delight when a new ann patchett novelist about to hit bookstores and i'm far from alone as madison smartt bell says vance cooks they have grace and beauty elegance and match her three previous novels are the patron saint of liars which is a new york times notable book of the year taft which won the jet it heidegger kafka prize and the magicians assistant which earned an abandoned home and now she has graced us with her fourth book bel canto which is set in an unnamed impoverished south american country it's vice president is hosting a lavish party for an important japanese businessman <unk> hosokawa hoping of course that he will invest some of his vast corporate welfare kyle white and the other international guests had been lowered to the party by the promise of
opera's most revered soprano roxanne costs and indeed she mesmerize is the entire gathering with her glorious voice suddenly terrorist take the entire party hostage and a siege began switch promises to be every bit as dramatic and tragic as grand opera itself ann patchett uses the language and emotion of music to underscore the relationships which form between the hostages and their captors and she does a masterful job as writer minot and sciences about bel canto you've got to refocus you've got to read this you'll meet ann patchett in just a minute but first she reads from bel canto in this scene a red cross negotiator has tried to deliver some opera scores to roxanne cost only to be turned away by the terrorists were not left barely started to turn away from the house one roxanne cost closed her eyes and opened her mouth in retrospect it was a risky thing to do both from the perspective of general
franco who might have seen it as an act of insurrection and from the care of the instrument of the voice itself should not sung in two weeks nor did she go through a single scale to warm up roxanne cost wearing this is a place this is slacks and a white dress shirt belonging to the vice president stood in the middle of the last living room and began to sing o neall babineaux travel from puccini is gianni sticky there should have been an orchestra behind her condo analysis absence no one would have said that her voice sounded better with an orchestra or that it was better when the room is immaculately clean and buy candles i did not notice the absence of flowers or champagne in fact they knew now that flowers and unnecessary and she really not been singing all along the sound was no more beautiful when her voice was limber and mourn their eyes clouded over with tears for so many reasons that it would be impossible to list them all they cried for the beauty of the music certainly
but also for the failure of their plans they were thinking of the last time they had heard her saying and longed for the woman that had been decided and then all of the love and longing on body can contain was not more than two and a half minute song the highest notes it seemed that they had all been given in their lives and all that they had lost came together and made our way to that was almost impossible to bear when she finished the people around her stood in stunned silence he's never leaned into the walls as if struck right at a party and like the others who never heard her sing that raises me about you is how you reinvent yourself if every single book there certainly are things in all the book's family being a huge when relationships to strange ways people can
come together each book is so very very different it's a funny conundrum i write the same book over and over again and yet people always are coming up to me and saying it's as if for different people have written these books by cs but they are exactly about the same thing why do you think you were so fascinated with the myriad ways we formed fan it's you know when i always saw myself off the hook by saying that seventy percent of all western literature is about the construction of family and so if this is my one note for life it's something that could be explored in mostly i'm not actually very interested in blood relations but how people attach themselves to one another and maybe it was because i grew up in one of those modern blended families with step siblings and step parents and i always had very very close relationships to my friends i believe my friends really are my
family and your family or people that you put together over the course of your life and that's interesting to me as i get older i have been really fascinated by looking at my friends and the families that they have created around themselves sometimes you're lucky and these are real family members but more often what i'm saying it's just what you said people pick this person to be the big brother this person to be their sister confidant this person to be the nurturing mother who brings you see it when you're sick destruction in decline of the american family of course is a great tragedy but everything in society is changing the way we work is changing we don't stay with the same jobs we go out to eat all the time everything is piecemeal and confused and it makes sense in a way that we can no longer rely entirely on the family that were born into or that we marry into to supply us with everything we need for a
lifetime we have certainly constructed a very unusual family intel began to have a real big on us and a fascinating wonder if you would share with listeners what is this book about this book is very loosely based on the nineteen ninety six takeover of the japanese embassy in lima peru ruled by a terrorist organization called to park and more and i wonder if it can be called a terrorist organization or resign and nobody who reads the book would know that it's amazing to me no one is picking up maybe one out of every fifty people who reads the book will call me and say oh yeah this is clearly based on a thing that happened really doesn't reference that directly but i was really glued to that story when it was happening and by the second week into it i knew it was something that i want to write about for those of us who don't remember the terrorists took over a dinner party at the ambassador's house and they kept the hostages there are seventy five or a hundred
hostages in in real life and they kept him for about four months so that's what this is based on there were a whole lot of different things that intrigued me about it one was the idea of writing a book in which the characters didn't speak the same language and so in my story although not so much in the true story of the guests are from all over the world it's a real international party and an opera singer has been brought in to entertain a japanese businessman and they're hoping to bring this business minister has a coward into the country for reasons of commerce the party is taken hostage they release all of the women except for the opera singer and we go from there we then have four months in which half the people are terrorists and half the people are hostages and may they just kind of sit and wait it out it is not a particularly terrifying group of terrorists very inept their most part their children and they all sort of bumble along together the most amazing thing is that it succeeds in the
first place especially when you consider these terrorists many of them have never seen a television that ranks thing that was true that is so much of this is not true ninety nine percent of this is not true but there are some fascinating details in the book that are true that the tariffs were largely children that they hadn't seen a television before that to the terrace were girls and their president fujimori was obsessed with soap operas i didn't know that that's the best of it the juxtaposition of these children largely an educated children in charge of these very sophisticated leaders of commerce right and they get no common language except in bel canto music and yet they do indeed former family there's a wonderful moment when again who's the interpreter is thinking about when the siege is over who should go to prison he starts ticking off one by one the terrorists have taken over
and he doesn't want any of them to go to prison you can't sacrifice any of them one of my great weaknesses shortcomings as a writer is i have no ability to write villains and whenever i pick out someone who's going to be the villain by the end of the book i've gone all soft on them and this is a book without villains or the villainy exists just outside the garden wall and it's certainly we know pressing him on them all the time but we keep thinking oh these are the good guys in these of the bag as in the story but they all began to blow her and now i was doing an interview yesterday and he said what are your views on terrorism and i said well clearly this is a book with friendly lovable terrorists i think i don't think that i need to put a disclaimer on the front saying that i'm in fact not supporting terrorism it's not a particularly realistic depiction of these sorts of events i understand although you do have those stories of situations where people have been taken hostage
and bonds form between the hostages and the people who has snatched enough to stop thompson when i started writing this i went back and looked up the article in europe are from the seventies back when in europe are used to run a seventy five page articles it's amazing piece about the stockholm syndrome which is named for a bank robbery in stockholm where they kept hostages there were four hostages and they had them for a couple of weeks and the hostages were just by the end all in favor of the people who kidnapped them and they were afraid of the outside world as i mentioned earlier music specifically our pride is the one common denominator that everybody in this embassy has in common and the music that you've chosen to draw them together is opera a real opera fan before the robo cantata no i knew nothing about opera i had never been to the opera and when i was watching through real events and fall on television
i knew it was operatic as a fiction writer as a former fiction teacher i've always been warned to stay away from melodrama and that's to know now and yet this event was so melodramatic an opera so melodramatic it be seemed really clear that these two things should go together and i thought it would be great to write a novel that explores the boundaries of melodrama even to take that passion the violence the action that everything and push it as far to the edge as you can while still writing a serious literary novel won the first things i did after a few failed attempts to figure opera i bought amazing book called opera one who won by fred plotkin which is just a college course for opera and i did everything fred said i bought the opera's i read the librettos and i really learned and i got it i started going to new york and san francisco are going to the operating spent all of my disposable income on cities and you became the like a religious
convert for opera the greatest thing that's happened to me in writing this book is this is something i have not for the rest of my life this is going to be a huge part of my life up or it is the ultimate art form it's theater it's music its literature it's its visual arts it's the most satisfying three hours you can spend the tapper is also like baseball i know nothing about baseball and i remember going to a baseball game and thinking this is torture because i had no idea what was going on if you don't know what's going on in baseball baseball is excruciating we boring and the same thing is true of proper he just come off the street and go in sit down and listen to an operatic chances are it's going to be terrible and you really have to work up to it you have to know what the opera's abadi have to know the language you have to have done little background for baseball eleven of the rules although any use this in bel canto there are certain arias certain sections of opera i don't think you'd have to
know the wrestling or what's going on so which are you know are i she's singing of love you know she's singing of love and that to me is one of the wonderful things about our prayers you can just too let the glory of music and these incredible voices pour over you would not have to worry that you can't sing along right and actually huge fan of these arias samplers you know like operas greatest hits can't write because when you listen to the whole opera new have a lot of rigidity of which is the part where they're actually sort of saying talking to another that can be very hard to follow and then the aria is the room ward it's icing and you can just let yourself go on our conversation with ann patchett will resume after this brief time i hope you can continue to check out the fine print an
testifying politically possible support of helicopter and shane smith of sharon langford and associates interested to sell the most cherished homes in the nashville area three a three sixty six hundred i've heard a lot of people out there that when they think about writing i think to sit down and start pounding out and don't stop to think about all of the research and education that's necessary to then make it seem effortless and what you're writing into what other research did you do to get to south america to go to south america which boy i did not need to do that i had a good time this is a book that takes place in a living room the book begins when the party is taken over and the book ends when they're released and nothing happened outside the living room most of the people at the party and from this country and they practically never seen the country the main characters have just flown in for the party so it could've been a living room in the south bronx it really didn't matter
where i've put them but i did go down to prove and it was a nice time we have a good trip i got to take it off my taxi is that jeremy was remarkably like sell central la is geographically the buildings before the fauna the ocean everything i remember we got in a ten o'clock at night the tough looking kids with the guns everything and i keep thinking why did i need to come all the way to south america could just you could just come home to la but you had gone to south america in order to know that you just couldn't go on and it's funny what you do get you think i mean i have this great revelation about what it meant to be there in fact the japanese embassy has been leveled they're going to eventually build a park there but there's just a wall it's an embassy neighborhood so it's a very nice neighborhood but there's really nothing to see however things like in lima pretty girl walks down the street every single man that drives by taps the horn a very lightly and it can be one
tap to tap three for whatever depending on how attractive young woman is and that was something that i got to put in the book that i thought ok you know i hadn't gotten the piece goes sour i never would have found the piece goes sour which is perhaps the greatest cocktail known to mankind if i hadn't gone to prune i get worked out and the book was the weather like the weather in here i forgot the word before the mist comes down to the glory which i'm probably mispronouncing yes the weather in in lima especially is really pretty horrific one of the worse things about this book is that i can't pronounce ninety five percent of it i can't pronounce the characters names if there's a part that i really want to read when i give bookstore readings and there are two lines of friendship from an aria and carmen and my friend just lousy and i just keep thinking do i really want to get a reading where and ms pronouncing french on not to mention
mispronouncing the character's name so when i say gloria which is she you ira and i'm thinking you know no you know all of your listeners or something on the radar right now growing at about how you pronounce that of course one of the most fascinating things about this book is looking at who these people were before this crisis situation took place and then how they are transformed by the crisis and it's brilliant because it's really like a chrysalis she's sharing or something they seemed to shed so many of the layers that we put on in order to survive out there the mind that focus for business you know the intention to attention to detail you're focused on what you have to do today and family often gets pushed to the background the wife and kids don't have the importance that the job has but when you're in a situation like this one all you have time to do is think and reflect on what is important to you
and everybody in here is changed by this experience with the exception of one character and simon to balk the french ambassador basically they're all happy here because they all are forced to stop and relax and think about their lives simon to ball actually had this experience just before he was taken hostage he had the experience of falling in love with his wife again and he only wants to go home but for the rest of that it's all an improvement it's an interesting tragic sort of twist because the terrorists want to kidnap the president who either way missed the party and isn't there at all which is how they got into all this trouble they want a kidnap the president so they can improve the lives of the people in fact they improve the lives of the people in the house both the hostages and the terrorists they are able to bring to them some kind of peace and joy and communion with one another which it wasn't at all what they had planned or they had imagined but they if
they do in a sense managed to free the people and the opera singer roxanne cost her her in music matches in a sense to free the people somebody asked me the other day they were saying well the point seems to be that art even more than love is what sets you free any is the salvation and roxanne provide salvation for everyone through her art but in the end she can't actually save them and i said the heavens you know you can only save people as much as you can save them better to save their souls well love plays very much under that though because everybody there is in love with roxanne yes because of her incredible voice the joy that she brings to them for fyodor off the russian that is such a poignant section in the book where he explains to her how he was able to come to love art and how that's translated into every aspect of his life and because of that he loves her
he doesn't ask her to do anything about it he's not proposing move away with made go to bed with me right he just loves her and he presents this to her as a present power force i'm curious i mean like he does say something i would like to read this because i've said this a lot about myself people so why don't you write his answer is my answer my brothers and i were all excellent observers some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it don't you think it is a kind of talent in itself to be an audience whether you're the spectator in the gallery where you're listening to the voice of the world's greatest soprano not everyone can be the artist there have to be those who witnessed the art who love and appreciate that they have been privileged to say i think that's an important role i think that's absolutely true and i think that the great thing about literature is that i bring half the package and you bring
half the package and the book is created between us i had very little patience for literature classes were teachers got up and explain what the writer meant because i do think if a book is is written as literature as opposed to a book that to read and god bless the reeds where you don't have to think in your completely entertained and that's a wonderful thing but the way it works of literature is you both have to bring something and then the book is created in the air out there in between the reader and the writer and so that the book is different every time it's rad and i don't think that i have the answer anymore than you would have the answer people come up and say whoa what happened to them later where they gather years later and say you know i stop the book at the point which i think you have enough information to then go on and tell that story to yourself you know especially with patients in a virus which i think was probably like the only really crowd pleasing book i'm going to write my life was saying that when you write the
sequel i really wanna know what happens to them and i think i never write a sequel but you should have enough information now to have your own imagination about these people and they should live on in your mind sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't again watanabe is of course a pivotal character in bel canto he is the translator he is the one person who knows everything that's being said and the poor guy is corps is constantly having to translate here there any on watching how he changes through the situation is really fascinating to begin with he is strictly a translator but as he grows more and more involved with these people he becomes a commentator when i really an emotional conduit is well known gann takes responsibility at some point for what people are saying around him again was born out of my guilt and shame over the fact that i don't speak another language which is something i feel
terrible about i speak hotel and restaurant in several languages but i'm not any good at anything and i love the idea of creating a character who is really my equivalent of a super hero a character who can speak every language my other great shame and guilt is that i know nothing about music and then i am not at all musical so i have my two powerhouse superheroes the great musical talent and the great genius for languages again is very emotionally removed he's heard at the beginning of the book because the terrorists use him as a machine and no haven't tied things up and then they'll say you know do it in swedish so they can just watch and tight and he feels that he's not a person but in a way they're right he is and he doesn't take responsibility he doesnt comment and as the book goes on and he becomes for the first time emotionally involved then he begins to as you say to comment on the
question which he never went before but the question the things the generals are telling him write this character is named after a friend of mine don't want another as a japanese man and and he read the book for me when it was finished and one of the things we talked about was a section which gann tells carmen de young terrors that he's in love with for the first time that he loves her and he realizes that he's never said the word love in his life and i was talking again about this and i said that when you write your parents and don't you sign it with love send a birthday card with love and he said no you would sign a birthday card i hope you're in good health he said you would never say the word love or write the word love so from again to get to the point first that he can love carmen then he realizes that he does in fact really love his employer <unk> has a cow and then as you said earlier in the interview he realizes that he in a sense was the mall so a huge awakening for him mr poor guy foreign
minister yes i feel very bad for him he's the red cross volunteer and he's the only person in the book who goes back and forth between the inside world in the outside world end his responsibility is to exchange liquor she asians request bring the food and bring the music and at first he tries very hard to get them to come outside and then as the book progresses he wishes more and more that he was just on the inside with them and i think that in a way he's the one that suffers the most because it's too much to ask anybody to go back and forth between those two worlds i think so to speak to me as the in many ways the tragic figure yes because of this position that he's been put in and because he knows only too well this idyllic life cannot go on right there will be retribution he fears of course that will be a tragic ending things don't go well i don't think that it's giving anything away or if it is just go back and read the news clips for what happened at the end of the party in lima peru
big reason why you wanted to write this book was i wanted to experience somehow to grieve for what i read about in the news i think that there are these countless huge tragedies and i and i think a lot people instantly find ways to extract them if two hundred and fifty people died a plane crash that's too many people i can't get my mind around that if it's this school shooting if it's a typhoon in indonesia as if it's an earthquake it's a thousand people it's three thousand people it's a terrorist situation goes on for three months i can understand that and my mind is always thinking that happened too far away it's too many people that could never happen to me or hear or to anyone i love the numbers are too great and everyone erases the one that came before it and i thought i want to once in my life stop and feel bad about the tragedy of people that i don't know in a country that i don't know in the circumstances all never experience and never
fully understand i want to just grieve for this because i feel so in humans so often just watching these tragedies churn by and i forget it and why is it that i feel so much worse about john kennedy's plane going down then i feel about three thousand people being killed in the earthquake on the other side of the world because if i have any emotional connection i had a crush on him in eighth grade therefore it somehow more important to me and i wanted to write a book that forced me to stop and think and look deeply into a mansion the lives of the people who lived through or did not live through this experience novelist ann patchett author of the patron saint of liars path the magicians assistant and her latest bel canto and that does conclude our program this week i hope you enjoyed
it and i hope you'll join me again next week when together we'll check out the fine print for national public radio i'm rebecca bain capital the fine print is produced by rebecca bain and scott smith for national public radio cd copies are available for ordering information call six one five seven six l to nineteen oh three our email address is rebecca at wpln out oh archie
The Fine Print
Program 01 11 Guest Ann Patchett Book Bel Canto
Producing Organization
Contributing Organization
WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio (Nashville, Tennessee)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-5c607a5a7f2).
Episode Description
An episode of WPLN's The Fine Print featuring host Rebecca Bain discussing an author's work with the author.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: Patchett, Ann
Host: Bain, Rebecca
Producing Organization: WPLN
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: cpb-aacip-eec5494e042 (Filename)
Format: CD
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The Fine Print; Program 01 11 Guest Ann Patchett Book Bel Canto,” 2001-07-14, WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 3, 2023,
MLA: “The Fine Print; Program 01 11 Guest Ann Patchett Book Bel Canto.” 2001-07-14. WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 3, 2023. <>.
APA: The Fine Print; Program 01 11 Guest Ann Patchett Book Bel Canto. Boston, MA: WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from