Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese electronics mega-mogul and passionate lover of opera, came to the vice-presidential mansion on the edge of the jungle in a South American capital (a thinly disguised Lima) to hear Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, sing. The other important guests came to flatter Mr. Hosokawa. As Roxanne is preparing for an encore, the mansion is suddenly taken over by a group of revolutionaries hoping to kidnap the country's president. So begins Bel Canto, Ann Patchett's wholly captivating novel that chronicles the months that the hostages, 39 men and one world-famous diva, and hostage-takers, a rag-tag group of rebels-on-the-mild- side, spend together. Intense relationships are almost unavoidable in this tight space, and the relationships Patchett explores are funny, lyric, sad and totally compelling. Anna Fields' performance is faultless and one only misses hearing Roxanne actually sing.

Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.


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