Fiercely simple, yet depthful. A book that you will zoom through with ease and warmth, but also suspense and gut-wrenching feeling of something horrible about to turn up. A blurb by the New York Times says, "Elegantly alluring... A novel that begins with a kiss and absolutely deserves one." It is absolutely and fully representative of the book.
The book begins with three powerful components of music in the lives of people. The first perspective takes a look at the soprano, and her admirers; what she means to them. All those who hear the soprano become unequivocally mesmerized, possibly even obsessed, "taken by the beauty of her voice that they want to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in." Then there is the introduction of music, as a passion, to people in general. "Maybe music could be transferred, devoured, owned." Lastly, and most important to the story-line, is the existential joyfulness someone can attain through the ultimate connection to true life. For some, that connection to true life is opera music. The businessman in the novel finds that his escape to the soprano's voice only brings him closer to the real elements of what true life encompasses. This next quote exemplifies it eloquently.
"Later, when everything was business, when he had worked harder than anyone in the country whose values are structured on hard work, he believed that life, true life, was something that was stored in music. True life was kept safe in the lines of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin while you went out into the world and met the obligations requried of you. Certainly he knew (though he did not completely understand) that opera wasn't for everyone, but for everyone he hoped there as something."
Gunmen enter and hold hostage hundreds of people. The whole process taking just a few minutes to occur, although seeming 'longer than all four courses of dinner' of time to those experiencing it. "Scattered across the floor like area rugs lay some important men and women and a few extremely important men and women, ambassadors and various diplomats, cabinet members, bank presidents, corporation heads, a monseigneur, and one opera star," but none of that matters. They are all strangers, and all they were outside this room will fail to exist, for some more or less. The circumstance calls for adjustment and survival. What transpires meanwhile gives them the hope that they will survive, their lives begin to feel secure. Bonds and relationships, in turn, emerge from co-existing at ease.
There are many powerful themes that play out while hostages and captives are finding themselves accustomed to one another, even to the point where 'love' becomes a prominent exotic desire. Was this just an extended version of a party that had gone on too long with people crammed in a room having to dance around one another or with each other? How do people change with the notion of fearing for their life versus being at ease with knowing that their life is secure, and feeling the freedom to complain for more? What are the reasons for keeping someone hostage? Doesn't the frustration of the language barriers in a way represent the frustration of the deaf? For the bussinessman the circumstance had provoked him to think about the duality of discipline versus maddnes in such conditions.
"He disciplined himself to only want the things that were possible to have: an enormous industry, a productive family, an understanding of music. And now, a few months after his fifty-third birthday, in a country he had never really seen, he felt desire in the deepest part of himself, the kind of wanting that can only come when the thing you want is very close to you. When he was a child he dreamed of love, not only to witness it, the way he saw love in the opera, but to feel it himself. But that, he decided, was madness.
And then there's the topic of translators. If you are into knowing about translators, this book has some insight into their psychology and demeanor. Something realy profound was in this quote: "Maybe a translator was not unlike a doctor, a lawyer, a priest even. They must have some code of ethics that prevented them from gossiping. And even if she wasn't positive then of his loyalty to her, she knew he would do everything possible to protect Mr. Hosokawa." If we all considered ourselves translators we could realize more distinctly how to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our conversations with others.
Lastly, here is an excerpt from the book. One of the most genius parts of the book.
"But these last months had turned him around and now Gen saw there could be as much virtue in letting go of what you knew as there had ever been in gathering new information. He worked as hard at forgetting as he had ever worked to learn. He managed to forget that Carmen was a soldier in the terrorist organization that had kidnapped him. That was not an easy task. Every day he forced himself to practice until he was able to look at Carmen and only see the woman he loved. He forgot about the future and past. He forgot about his country, his work, and what would become of him when all of this was over. He forgot that the way he lived now would ever be over. And Gen wasn't the only one. Carmen forgot, too. She did not remember her direct orders to form no emotional bonds to the hostages. When she found it was a struggle to let such important knowledge slip from her memory, the other soldiers helped her forget. Ishmael forgot because he wanted to be the other son of Ruben Iglesias and an employee of Oscar Mendoza. He could picture himself sharing a bedroom with Ruben's son, Marco, and being a helpful older brother to the boy. Caesar forgot because Roxanne Coss had said he could come with her to Milan to learn to sing. How easy it was to imagine himself on a stage with her, a rain of tender blossoms pouring down on their feet. The Generals helped them to forget by turning a blind eye to all the affection and slackness that surrounded them, and they could that because there was so much they were forgetting themselves. They had to forget that they had been the ones to recruit these young people from their families by promising them work and opportunities and a cause to fight for. They had to forget that the President of the country had neglected to attend the party from which they had so elaborately planned to kidnap him and so they changed their plans and took everyone else hostage. Mostly, they had to forget that they had not come up with a way to leave. They had to think that one might present itself if they waited long enough. Why should they think about the future? No one else seemed to remember it. Father Arguedas refused to think about it. Everyone came to Sundy mass. He performed the sacraments: communion, confession, even last rites. he had put the souls in this house in order and that was the only thing that mattered, so why should he think about the future?The future never even occured to Roxanne Coss. She had become so proficient at forgetting that she never considered the wife of her lover anymore. She was not concerned that he ran a corporation in Japan, or that they did not speak the same language. Even the ones who had no real reason to forget had done so. They lived their lives only for the hour that lay ahead of them. Lothar Falken thought only of running around the house. Victor Fyodorov thought of nothign but playing cards with his friends and gossiping about their love for Roxanne Coss. Tetsuya Kato thought of his reponsiblities as an accompanist and forgot about the rest. It was too much work to remember things you might not have again, and so one by one they opened up their hand and then let go. Except for Messner, whose job it was to remember. And Simon Thibault, who even in his sleep thought of nothing but his wife."