Thursday, May 29, 2008

Words to live by

"I'll take an earnest person over a hip person every time, because hip is short-term. Earnest is long term.
Earnestness is highly underestimated. It comes from the core, while hip is trying to impress you with the surface

--Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bel Canto

I got the recommendation to read Bel Canto from Suse's blog.
I noticed in comments that people kept repeating how they wished it hadn't ended.
The reviews on Amazon, while still positive, weren't as enthusiastic.
I picked up a copy at my local library, and read it in two days.
In other words, I didn't want to put it down.

The premise of the storyline is a youthful group of soldiers takes a party hostage.
As in literally a party--a famous opera singer is performing at the birthday party of a powerful businessman.
Are these soldiers fighting a worthy cause, or are they terrorists?
It depends who is telling the story.

It is the music, and the passion for the music that soothes the tensions here.
Within a situation made up of confusion, frustration, sorrow, and rage, the music offers tenderness and loveliness.
The music unites.

Thrown together in these unusual circumstances, the characters blossom and grow familiar to the reader--relationships develop that would have not had a chance normally.
The reader is sympathetic to characters on both sides of the proverbial fence.

"Until their capture, he had thought of his life in terms of achievement and success. Now it struck him as a long list of failures: he didn't speak English or Italian or Spanish. He didn't play the piano. He had never even tried to play piano." (page 123)

"Kato went to the piano and he played. It wasn't like the last time he had played, when no one could believe that such a talent had been in the room among them without anyone knowing it. It was nothing like Roxanne singing, where it seemed that everyone's heart would have to wait until she had finished before it could beat again. The Satie was only music. They could hear its beauty without being paralyzed by it. The men were able to relax to read their books or look out the window while Kato played. Roxanne continued to leaf through the scores, though every now and then she stopped and closed her eyes. Only Mr. Hosokowa and the priest completely understood the importance of the music. Every note was distinct. It was the measurement of the time which had gotten away from them. It was the interpretation of their lives in the very moment they were being lived." (pages 155,156)

"To find myself here with her and to be unable to say anything it is, well, unfortunate. No, honestly, it is frustrating. What if we were released tomorrow? That is what I pray for and yet, wouldn't I say to myself for the rest of my life, you never spoke to her? She was right there in the room with you and you didn't bother to make arrangements to say something? What would it mean to live with such regret? I supposed it didn't bother me much before she resumed her singing, I was preoccupied with my own thoughts, the circumstances at hand, but now with the music coming so regularly everything has changed." (page 175)

"It was a tragedy to my grandmother that none of us showed a talent for painting. Even at the end of her life, when I was in school studying business she was telling me to try again. But it wasn't something I was capable of learning. She liked to say my brother Dimitri would have been a great painter but that was only because Dimitri was dead. The dead we can imagine to be anything at all. My brothers and I were all excellent observers. Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don't you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world's greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see." (page 219)

"He had the kitchen to himself for a moment and wanted to make use of this rare time alone. The sun came through the windows and shone brightly off his clean rifle and oh, how he loved to hear the words in his mouth. She had sung it so many times this morning he had had the chance to memorize all the words. It didn't matter that he didn't understand the language, he knew what it MEANT. The words and music fused together and became a part of him. Again and again he sang the chorus, almost whispering for fear someone might hear him, mock him, punish him. He felt this too strongly to think that it was something he could get away with. Still, he wished he could open himself up the way she did, bellow it out, dig inside himself to see what was really there. It thrilled him when she sang the loudest, the highest." (page 224)

"Glorious light...(he)who had thought he would not live to feel once again the sensation of grass beneath his feet, stepped off the shale stone walkway and sank into the luxury of his own yard. He had stared at it every day from the living room window but now that he was actually there it seemed like a new world. Had he ever walked around his own lawn in the evening? Had he made a mental note of the trees, the miraculous flowering bushes that grew up around the wall? What were they called? He dropped his face into the nest of deep purple blossoms and inhaled. Dear God, if he were to get out of this alive he would be attentive to his plants. Maybe he would work as a gardener. The new leaves were bright green and velvety to touch. He stroked them between his thumb and forefinger, careful not to bruise. Too many evenings he had come home after dark. He saw the life in his garden as a series of shadows and silhouettes. If there was ever such a thing as a second chance he would have his coffee outside in the morning. He would come home to have lunch with his wife in the afternoons on a blanket beneath the trees. His two girls would be in school, but he would hold his son on his knees and teach him the names of birds. How had he come to live in such a beautiful place? He walked through the grass towards the west side of the house and the grass was so heavy he knew it would be difficult to cut. He like it that way. Maybe he would never have the grass mown again. If a man had a ten-foot wall then he could do whatever he wanted with his yard. He could make love to his wife late at night in the place where the wall made a pocket of lawn and three slender trees grew in a semi-circle. They could come out after the children went to bed, after the servants were asleep, and who would see them? The earth they lie down on is as soft as their bed. He pictured her long dark hair undone and spread over the heavy grass. he would be a better husband in the future, a better father. He got on his knees and reached between the tall yellow lilies. He pulled up a weed that was as high as the flowers, its stem as thick as a finger, then another, and another. He filled his hands with green stems, roots and dirt. There was a great deal of work to be done." (pages 281, 282)

"It was not unlike watching a calf rise up for the first time on spindly legs, at the same time awkward and beautiful...
'It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.'
" (page 300)

The only part of this book I wanted to change was the ending.
I would have liked to have seen it end a couple chapters earlier.
I would have preferred the reader imagine their futures.

Labels: ,