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An Overview of the Major Characters in 'Bel Canto' by Ann Patchett

Updated on December 31, 2017


Ann Patchett is an American novelist. Her novel ’Bel Canto’ was published in 2001. The book is perhaps based on a real-life event in 1996. That time members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took a number of high ranking Japanese diplomats and industrialists hostages in Lima. There is, however, a difference as Anne Patchett has used the license of a fiction writer to embellish the novel with human emotions and feelings.

The novel

The novel is set in an unnamed country. Patchett recounts that a birthday party is thrown at the house of the vice president. Towards the end of the party, a terrorist organization storms the house and takes all the members attending the party hostage. Subsequently, they release most of the hostages, keeping the most valuable in their custody. As the hostage drama drags on for months, human emotions come into play between the terrorists and the hostages. This ends when the government troops storm the house and rescue the hostages.

Major characters

Patchett has created four major characters in the novel.

a) Sumi Hosokawa

The most important character is Sumi Hosokawa. He is the founder and chairman of the largest electronic company from Japan. The party is being held in his honor. He is married with two daughters. He loves music and that is what attracts him to Roxane, a singer who is invited to sing at the party. As the hostages learn to live in the confines of the house, Hosokawa falls in love with Roxane. He does not know the language of Roxane and in this he is helped by his translator named Gen Watanabe

The relationship between Roxane and Hosokawa is doomed from the beginning. Towards the end of the novel Hosokawa is killed in the operation by the troops as he attempts to save Carmen, who is a terrorist girl disguised as a man. Patchett brings out that love has no language and music by its own strength can lead one to love another.

b) Roxane Cross

The second important character is Roxane Cross. She is the singer invited to sing at the party. She is in her late thirties. As the days pass she gets to love Hosokawa She uses her talent as a singer to good effect. She starts the novel as a prima donna and remains aloof, but soon bonds with the others. She even helps a young terrorist named Cesar with a beautiful voice to develop himself. Roxane bonds with the translator Gen whom she eventually marries. The writer brings to the fore the power of music and shows that music can be a great uniting force.

c) Gen Watanabe

The third character is Gen Watanabe. He is the translator attached to the vice president. He is at the center of action of the novel and falls in love with Carmen. He realizes that Carmen though dressed as a man is in reality a woman. He starts getting close to Carmen, when he starts tutoring her to read and write. Carmen also reciprocates his love and both lovers meet every night in the China closet and make passionate love . Towards the end of the novel he tries to save Carmen, but fails. He survives the ordeal. The house where the hostages are kept is surrounded by a garden. The hostages are allowed out and in a quiet nook, Gen and Carmen make love for the first time.

d) Carmen

The last character who has a major role in the novel is the girl terrorist Carmen. She wears men’s clothing and masquerades as a man. Carmen is an Indian girl from the jungle and she is unsophisticated with a deep faith in goddess saint Rose of Lima. She loves Gen Watanabe passionately. Their love has a certain desperation as she realizes that she may never see Gen again. In the final denouement she is shot dead, but there are no records available later that she ever existed. The leader of the terrorist General Benjamin realizes that Carmen is developing into a beautiful woman and regrets that he brought her along in the raid.

Last Word

The novel ends with Gen marrying Roxane and moving with her to Italy. The novel is a thriller with plenty of action and keeps the reader riveted to the book.Bel Canto was awarded both the Orange Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.


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