Bel Canto : Chapter 3
Summary Chapter 3
As the hostages who are to be freed make their way out, Roxane, when she is nearly at the door, is told to wait. She protests and tries to reach the door, but General Hector grabs her by the hair and pulls her back. The generals go into a little conference among themselves—since they had promised that all the women would be released—and one of them says “She could sing.” Roxane is therefore detained apparently because of the entertainment value she offers.
Roxane’s accompanist Christopf, who managed to find the strength to leave with the others, storms back into the house when he finds that Roxane has not been released. He flops down beside her and refuses to leave. He becomes even more ill, however, and loses consciousness. Father Arguedas helps Roxane attend to him. The priest believes the man is dying and administers the last rites as Roxane looks on, remembering her Catholic upbringing. She also reveals that the accompanist had, out of the blue, declared his love for her on the flight over. She had previously respected him for his musical skills, and recoiled from this sudden passionate declaration of his feelings.
After finding an empty vial and a hypodermic needle in Christopf’s pocket, it is realized that he is a diabetic and needs insulin. But no medicine is available, and Christopf dies. General Hector suggests shooting him and putting his body outside, to show the government what they are capable of. A German hostage, LotharFalken, tells them the ploy will not work, because the wound will not bleed. When Roxane hears about the plan she says that if they want to shoot the dead Christopf they will have to shoot him through her. The generals back down and agree to release the dead body. The remaining hostages feel a sense of loss. They admire the accompanist because they are aware that he died for love of Roxane. Messner returns and arranges for the removal of the body. He asks for the release of Roxane but the generals refuse.
Gen is instructed by Mr. Hosokawa to tell Roxane that he is grieved by the death of her accompanist, whom he considers to have been very talented. On his way to Roxane, Gen notices for the first time one of the young militants who is sticking close to the singer. The terrorist has a delicate, intelligent face. After speaking to Mr. Hosokawa, Gen brings Roxane over to meet him. Mr. Hosokawa explains to her, using Gen as an interpreter, why he feels responsible for their joint misfortune. He tells her he had agreed to come to the party only because he knew she would be singing and had no intention of helping the host country. Roxane says she does not blame him, and Mr. Hosokawa is relieved.
The generals take an inventory of all the remaining hostages. Since they have failed in their objective to kidnap the president, they now want to find out if they have any high-value hostages and prepare some demands, such as the release of political prisoners and money. By evening they decide that thirty-nine hostages will be kept, which rises to forty because Father Arguedas again refuses to leave.
Messner returns and notices that Ruben’s wounded face is showing signs of infection. He orders some antibiotics by telephone. General Alfredo gives Messner a list of who is being kept and who is being released, and also a list of their political demands and their immediate needs (blankets, toothbrushes, etc.).
Roxane Coss and Mr. Hosokawa take their first steps toward a friendship, even though they do not speak each other’s language. Gen notices one terrorist in particular, and this will prove significant later in the novel. Although from an objective point of view, the situation is desperate, as eighteen militants hold scores of hostages, it is beginning to become clear that the militants are not over-anxious to kill anyone. Only Christopf has died so far,and that only indirectly as a result of the hostage situation. Patchett’s intention is not to tell a realistic, action-packed story but to explore how a situation such as this gives rise to unexpected emotions and states of mind. The novel is in fact more of a fable than a work of realism. One of the themes is love, which is just beginning to emerge. Roxane is a larger-than-life figure in the sense that she seems to be an attractive force, because of the beauty of her singing, that draws others to her. Her singing awakens mysterious feelings of love and takes people into a different realm of experience than the normal.
One reviewer has referred to the novel as a comedy of manners—a satirical portrayal of a certain class or group of people—and this can be seen in this chapter in the posturing of the generals, who are less dangerous than they appear, and in the small things that concern people even in this apparently dire situation. When interviewed by the generals, for example, Gen is not much interested in explaining his qualifications to them.His meal has been interrupted and he hopes that the piece of cake he has had to put away beneath a chair will still be there when he gets back: “He had especially wanted the cake.”