Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto begins in an impoverished Spanish country in need of an economy stimulant. When Japanese tech-giant Nansei’s President Katsumi Hosokawa pays a visit to see his favorite opera singer Roxane Coss perform for his birthday, the country begins to speculate wildly about hosting a new manufacturing plant for the company. To quote, “Industry could move the economy away from the farming of coca leaves and blackhearted poppies, creating the illusion of a country moving away from the base matter of cocaine and heroin, so as to promote foreign aid to make trafficking of those very drugs less conspicuous.” Guests of the party are initially told the reasons for the President’s absence are “matters in Israel,” whereby they are led to think higher of the President and his country. This theme demonstrates the strong leverage and influence hegemonic superpowers have on third-world countries.
Patchett is very detailed when she conveys the painstaking efforts the people of the Spanish country had gone through in preparation for Mr. Hosokawa’s arrival. For examples, “the garden, which the guests would see only for a moment… was polished and composed” and “three days before they had put a fresh coat of whitewash on the high stucco wall… careful that none of the paint should fall on the grass.” The people of the country are trying to make a positive impression on Mr. Hosokawa so that he might choose to open a factory on their homeland.
This attempt to aid in initiating strong foreign policy reminds me of the way countries construct elaborate stadiums when awarded to host a season’s Olympic games. For example in 2008, China constructed Beijing National Stadium to host the event and spent $428 million doing so to impress some 90,000 spectators (Ouroussoff). In this way, China – like the Spanish country in Bel Canto – aims to raise its approval ratings and make itself known as a capable and powerful nation.
Further separating Japan and the Spanish country are the differing systems of government. While Japan’s government follow’s a constitutional monarchy with an aristocratic electoral college, the government of the Spanish country is tight-knit within a closed cabinet where the presidency is to be handed down from President to Vice President (Executive). Vice President Ruben Iglesias is said to’ve “ended his own political career” when he confesses to the whereabouts of the President because his betrayal of telling the truth brought the President much embarrassment. In other words, Iglesias would not be handed the Presidency not because of legislation, but because the President simply will be too upset with him.
In the coming chapters I expect the relationship between Mr. Hosokawa and the Spanish to tighten – especially after bonding through the terrorists’ attack on the Vice President’s home. Perhaps here Mr. Hosokawa will understand how desperate the people are and how he could leave such a profound effect. In other words, not only does the terrorists’ attack show Mr. Hosokawa how desperate the people are, but their undergoing the same experience together can bring them closer together.
Or perhaps Mr. Hosokawa will cut ties with the country altogether – after all, his only reason for attending the party is so he can hear Roxane Coss sing. It’s quite possible that the novel’s focus will shift from a relationship of two contrasting countries to the relationship between Mr. Hosokawa and his love of an artist and her music. And a third possibility is that Patchett is actually comparing the two relationships and will continue to do so throughout the novel.
More specifically, the relationship between Japan and the Spanish country is relatively one sided where one must work hard to land the other’s benefit. Mr. Hosokawa very rarely is able to find the time to enjoy listening to music because he is so busy running his company. Another possibility is that the two relationships actually contrast. The Spanish country strives to make itself noticed as of importance and high reputation. Mr. Hosokawa, however, desires only to listen to Roxane Cross’ voice and never to make himself known to her. An example of this is given when he requests she perform Rusalka, which does not require great effort on her part.
In conclusion, Patchett conveys the roles two contrasting countries play in developing foreign policy with one another through specific tactics. The Spanish country is in great need of an economical stimulant that Japan’s Mr. Hosokawa may be able to offer, though he isn’t particularly interested in doing so. The relationship between the two countries and Mr. Hosokawa and his music are comparable and may foreshadow where Patchett will take us through her novel.
“Executive Summary – Japan.” U.S. Department of State. 2011. Web. 2 Sept. 2015. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/186486.pdf>.
Ouroussoff, Nicolai. “Olympic Stadium With a Design to Remember.” The New York Times. 5 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 Sept. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/05/sports/olympics/05nest.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.