Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening --... read more
Opera diva Roxanne Coss has come to a small Latin American country to perform at the birthday party of Katsumi Hosokawa, the head of a major Japanese electronics company. Officials of this Latin American company have wooed Hosokawa to the home of the country’s vice president with the promise... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Opera diva Roxanne Coss has come to a small Latin American country to perform at the birthday party of Katsumi Hosokawa, the head of a major Japanese electronics company. Officials of this Latin American company have wooed Hosokawa to the home of the country’s vice president with the promise of Coss’s performance. They hope that their hospitality will prompt Hosokawa to agree to build a factory in the country. But Hosokawa has no interest in building a factory. He has only come because he loves opera and loves Coss’s voice.
As soon as Coss has finished her last song, all of the lights go out in the vice president’s home. A band of terrorists rush into the living room, where the guests are assembled, and demand that the president of the country come forward. It turns out that the president is not at the party; he has stayed home to watch a popular soap opera on television. Thwarted in their original intentions and lacking a fallback plan, the terrorists begin a standoff with the government.
The next day, a representative from the Red Cross, Joachim Messner, arrives to act as a negotiator between the terrorists and the government. The terrorists agree that in return for supplies they will release the workers, the sick, and the women. The only woman they refuse to give up is Roxanne Coss. When Coss’s accompanist realizes that Coss has been detained, he insists on staying with her, although he is terribly ill. A diabetic, he soon dies from lack of insulin.
During the next four months, life takes surprising turns for the better. The hostages realize that aside from the three generals in charge, all of the terrorists are children or young teenagers. The hostages begin to act parental with the young terrorists. They also discover that two of the terrorists are girls. Because the hostages and terrorists speak many different languages, they rely on Gen Watanabe, Hosokawa’s translator, to translate for them. He is kept very busy translating various conversations.
After a few weeks, Coss decides she needs to practice singing. It turns out that one of the hostages, a hardworking executive in Hosokawa’s company, is an excellent pianist. He and Coss begin to practice together every day. The beauty of Coss’s singing makes the hostages and terrorists feel almost lucky to be trapped.
As the weeks and months stretch on, most of the hostages and the terrorists begin to enjoy their lives. Two love affairs blossom. One is between Hosokawa and Coss, and another is between Watanabe, Hosokawa’s translator, and one of the female terrorists, Carmen. This second love affair begins when Carmen asks Watanabe to teach her how to read and write. Watanabe agrees and meets Carmen in secret at night in a china closet. No one else knows about their lessons or their love. Other close relationships form: General Benjamin, the leader of the terrorists, begins to play chess with Hosokawa, and the vice president of the country, Ruben Iglesias, becomes increasingly fond of Ishmael, one of the young terrorists. Iglesias even envisions adopting him.
After several months, a persistent fog lifts. One morning, Cesar, one of the young terrorists, starts to sing. Everyone is amazed at how gifted he is. Coss begins to give him singing lessons. Around the same time, the generals begin to allow the hostages outside to enjoy the yard. There they run around, play soccer, and garden.
A French ambassador, Simon Thibault, is deeply in love with his wife and longs for the hostage crisis to end. He is the only one who feels this way. The rest of the hostages and the terrorists grow happier and happier. They no longer fear one another. They fear what will happen when their captivity ends.
Messner, the Red Cross representative, continues to be the sole outsider to visit the mansion. He, too, grows fond of the terrorists. The terrorists try to forget about what will happen to them in the end, but Messner tries to convince them to surrender. He tells them repeatedly that there is no other hope, but they refuse to listen, since they know that surrendering will mean imprisonment and, most likely, death. After four months have passed, government troops storm the mansion and kill all the terrorists, including Carmen. By accident, they kill Hosokawa, who is trying to protect Carmen from the soldiers’ bullets.
The novel ends with an epilogue in which Coss and Watanabe marry.
“Carmen prayed hard. She prayed while standing near the priest in hopes it would give her request extra credibility. What she prayed for was nothing. She prayed that God would look on them and see the beauty of their existence and leave them alone.”
“There was such an incredible logic to kissing, such a metal-to-magnet pull between two people that it was a wonder that they found the strength to prevent themselves from succumbing every second. Rightfully, the world should be a whirlpool of kissing into which we sank and never found the strength to rise up again.”
“If someone loves you for what you can do then it's flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.”Roxanne
“He doesn’t know to want for more because nothing in his life has been as much as this...on that night he thinks that no one has ever had so much and only later will he know he should have asked for more.”
“They were so taken with the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in.”In speaking about Roxane Coss's singing.
“. . . and the air was sugared with promise”In describing the effect Mr. Hosokawa's visit has on the community
“They were early, but other people were earlier, as part of the luxury that came with the ticket price was the right to sit quietly in this beautiful place and wait.”
“"Ah, Mr. Hosokawa," Roxane said. "Imprisonment would be something else altogether without you."”
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