The concept of the book sounds...well, to be honest, it sounds kind of stupid. I read the blurb off the back cover to my husband before I started the book, and we both started laughing as I read it. The story is essentially that a large party of international businessmen and diplomats in a small South American country are at the party to listen to a world-class opera soprano. The entire party is taken hostage by a band of terrorists. Demands are made and the government refuses to budge, the length of the hostage situation grows longer and longer...and the line between "hostage" and "terrorist" grows blurry as the group connects with one another, become friendly, maybe fall in love in some instances... Sounds kind of ridiculous, I know.
So I started reading a little bit warily. It took a little time for me to get invested in the characters. The first one that interested me was Gen, an (apparently amazing) translator who was there with Mr. Hosokawa, the Japanese businessman for whom the party was being thrown. Gen was an easy character to get to know because, being a translator in an extremely international hostage situation, he's in demand all the time for communications. Gradually, I also came to know Carmen and Beatriz (the two girl terrorist who everyone thought were boys at first), General Benjamin (the terrorist general who is actually personable and has bad shingles), Messner (the Swiss Red Cross negotiator who got dragged into this while he happened to be on vacation in this country), Roxanne Coss (the soprano), Mr. Hosokawa, and several other terrorists and hostages. I became attached to some of them, like the youngest terrorist, Ishmael, who taught himself how to play chess really well by watching Gen. Benjamin and Mr. Hosokawa play. And Cesar, the terrorist who turns out to have a natural vocal talent on par with the famous opera singer.
It was getting to know the characters that did me in. The more I learned about them all as people (because they became people to me, more than characters in a book), the more I was sucked in. I will not tell you how everything shakes out. I only realized that I loved the book after I finished it, when I cried uncontrollably for ten minutes.
I guess what I'm saying is...I'm one of the lovers of Bel Canto. And for anyone who hasn't read it, I'm asking you to stick with it until you're SURE you either love it or hate it. Don't give up on it just because you're lukewarm - give it a little more time.