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Bel Canto : Chapter 2

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Summary Chapter 2

During the night, the government authorities assemble their forces outside the house. Through a bullhorn, the immediate surrender of the militants is demanded. In the morning, Mr. Hosokawa feels some guilt because he had agreed to attend the party in his honor even though he had no intention of opening a factory in the country. He therefore has a feeling of responsibility for what happened. He particularly feels bad for Roxane, since she was brought to the party to sing for him.

In the morning the hostages fear that they are going to be taken somewhere and shot, but are relieved to find out that they are in fact being escorted, a few at a time, to the bathrooms. One terrorist accompanies each hostage. Roxane is certain she will not be shot but nonetheless breaks down in tears in the bathroom. The accompanist is taken ill but Roxane does not know what is the matter with him. Mr. Hosokawa tells Gen that he expects a ransom demand to be made. It is the policy of Nansei to pay ransoms, and he says the company will pay for both of them to be released.

The French Ambassador Simon Thibault and his wife Edith lie together holding hands. Simon expects the hostages to be separated soon. The women will be taken away.

There is a knock on the door and the vice president is sent to answer it. The caller is Joachim Messner, a Swiss citizen who is representing the International Red Cross. He is in fact in the city on vacation but has been called in to help deal with the crisis as a liaison between the militants and the government. Messner tells the generals they have too many hostages and should release the ones they do not need. In return they will receive food and supplies. This will also establish them as reasonable people with whom the government can deal. General Benjamin says they will give up the hostages in exchange for the president, but Messner tells them there is no chance of that happening.

Messner then insists that Ruben have his bleeding wound attended to. In the absence of a doctor willing to help—a Dr. Gomez, who has not practiced medicine in years refuses to identify himself as such—Esmeralda the governess is summoned. She puts stitches in the vice president’s face using a sterilized needle from her sewing box.

Of the two Catholic priests who are among the hostages, Monsignor Rolland thinks only of his imminent release, which is necessary because he hopes to become a bishop soon. Father Arguedas, on the other hand, a younger man, is still intoxicated with the sound of Roxane’s voice, and he also tries to reach out to one of the very young revolutionaries in an effort to comfort him. The big Russian, Fyodorov, smokes a cigarette in defiance of the terrorists but eventually puts it out when threatened with a gun.

Messner, who had left for a couple of hours, returns.Using Gen as an interpreter, General Alfredo says they have decided to allow all the women to leave, as well as all the workers, the priests, and anyone who is sick. In return he asks for supplies and also gives Messner a list of their demands, which is to be read to the press. Gen notices in the papers he is given that the group identifies itself as La Familia de Martin Suarez. Messner is surprised, since he had thought the hostage takers were members of the more radical and brutal group, La DirecciónAuténtica.

The hostages are divided into two groups, men and women. Then the waiters, cooks, and cleaning staff, as well as the priests and the sick, are told to join the women. This group includes Roxane’s accompanist, who seems to be getting sicker by the minute. One of the priests, however, Father Arguedas, requests permission to stay. He says they will need a priest.

The selected hostages are then released.



Patchett chose to tell her story using an omniscient third-person narrator, which means that the narrator has insight into the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. In addition to describing the developing action, in which the hostages start to come to terms with their situation and more than half are about to be released, from multiple points of view, the narrative technique allows for in-depth character development. This chapter contains a number of character studies in miniature, even of minor characters who will make no further appearance in the novel, such as Dr. Gomez and Monsignor Rolland. Father Arguedas, who will have a more prominent role, and the hapless vice president Ruben Iglesias, are given extended treatment in this chapter. The latter’s improbable rise to high office from very humble beginnings is described, and although he is treated with contempt by the generals he is able to preserve his own dignity and look after the people he views as his guests (they are in his house after all) as best he can. Ruben is also sometimes presented in a wryly amusing manner, as a figure from whom some gentle humor can be extracted. Ruben “knew a little English but only when the words were spoken one at a time and he hadn’t recently been clubbed in the head with a gun” (p. 40). In fact, there is quite a bit of humor in the novel, despite the fact that the situation being described is grim. Of Joachim Messner, for example, the unflappable Red Cross mediator: “Joachim Messnerseemed inordinately casual, like a neighbor stopping in to borrow eggs and staying too long to chat” (p. 40). There is more humor in the vignette about Father Arguedas,who some while ago was so concerned that his passionate interest in opera might be a sin he offered it as such to the priest in the confessional. The priest immediately responded, “Verdi or Wagner?” which surprised Arguedas as much as it amuses the reader. These touches of humor give the novel some of its charm and provide a lighter tone than one might expect in a novel about a hostage-taking situation. (For those who don’t get the joke, a rough equivalent might be a person who confesses that he has a lustful interest in women, and the priest responds “Blondes or brunettes?”)


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