Family and Politics: Ann Patchett’s New Book at Last!

2 10 2007

“RUN” was to be released October 16 but now I think today is the day!

Ann Patchett’s life-changing “Bel Canto” is one of my favorite books ever. I’ve bought and given away several copies to friends, since it came out six years ago. Bel Canto too, was about the politics of strangers thrown together as family, and how we don’t all speak the same language or understand the same truths — except music, which transcends their differences, touches everyone and brings them together although not even the most talented of them can really understand how or control how it happens.

Not happy exactly, but right and true imo, which makes it profoundly satisfying.

And right now during Banned Books Week 2007, let’s applaud Ann Patchett as a strong southern woman, for passionately “defending her work from censorious detractors” like the southern lawyer-politico who claimed her books led to the sexual and secular corruption of college students. Read all about it in her interview with Atlantic Monthly, “My Pornography.”

Ken Wingate, a South Carolina lawyer and local also-ran for the state senate and governorship — The sewer he claimed to have waded into involved Patchett’s book, “Truth & Beauty: A Friendship” which had been assigned to the incoming Clemson University freshman class of 2006 as mandatory summer reading.

Way to miss the point there, Skippy. Not the point of the book but of the real story, which in this case was nonfiction. The point of family, politics, friendship, sex, LIFE!

The Santa Fe Opera is to be commended for offering something different and sophisticated . . . the opera company forces us to consider different operas, to broaden our musical horizons and witness sophisticated and complicated performances. The opera will feature in 2006 a new commission of Ann Patchett’s novel “Bel Canto.”
One of the most anticipated events in the opera world is the premiere of Bel Canto, based on Ann Patchett’s best selling novel of the same name. This opera was commissioned by the SFO and was scheduled for the summer of 2006 with French soprano Natalie Dessay. Unfortunately, Bel Canto was recently postponed because the composer claimed that he did not have sufficient time to complete the score.


In Patchett’s own words, “Run” is 24 hours in Boston, Joe Kennedy meets the Brothers Karamazov . . . exploring the “what ifs” of true power from generation to generation running along MATRIARCHAL, rather than patriarchal, lines. (They always said Eunice should’ve been president, not any of the boys.)

She says to her this book is — as all her books are — less about biological family and more about the larger family of community, country, responsibilities, how “family values” transcend blood and what greatness really means. It’s a “call” to accepting one’s responsibility to the world, which “obsesses” her at this moment in history, and in her own private life.

The new book is particularly tied to “the cusp between the very rich and very poor” and also to Harvard (ichtheology?? — can’t wait to see what that has to do with anything. )

She first called this book “God’s Sons” and then “Nature” (as opposed to Nurture) but because Kenya-style running, running from one’s past and also a high-stakes political run figure into it, she settled on Run.

What is our connection to strangers, who do we love, what is our responsibility to those we love and to society? Again in the author’s own words, Bel Canto was that book and in a very different way, this is the same book. We all have to learn that you can’t receive so much but then be so lazy, willing only to follow your own heart’s desire . . .

Her publisher closes the online interview by saying Run is profound, both domestic drama and universal drama. He obviously has a profit motive in talking it up, but it doesn’t really matter — she had me at Bel Canto.



5 responses

2 10 2007

No doubt someone will want to ban this book too. I just read a blog review of it that says it’s got race issues as well as uppity-women issues (apparently two brothers are black, adopted by a powerful white family?)

A video excerpt of her censorship response at Clemson U. is included at the magazine interview link.

2 10 2007

This wikipedia entry about the Brothers Karamazov makes me think Patchett was profoundly influenced by it.

Her Bel Canto is literally about the “translator” as the pivotal character, the only one who can connect the other strangers speaking different languages, so they can have real relationships, learn to understand and help each other, even to love each other. So he has the real power, although he’s just an employee and literally a prisoner of class warfare, isn’t rich or political or important or strong, or even musically talented.

Speech is another technique that Dostoevsky employs uniquely in this work.

Every character has a unique manner of speaking which expresses much of the inner personality of each person. For example, “The attorney Fetyukovich habitually says ‘robbed’ when he means ‘stolen’, and at one point declares five possible suspects in the murder ‘completely irresponsible.’ ”

The reader can therefore perceive that this attorney is attempting to sound more learned than he really is, which causes him to use words incorrectly. There are also several plot digressions that help provide insight into other characters who may not initially seem important to the reader. . . .


The diverse array of literary techniques and distinct voices in the novel makes the translation of special importance. The Brothers Karamazov has been translated from the original Russian into a number of languages. In English, the translation by Constance Garnett probably continues to be the most widely read.

However, some have criticized Garnett for taking too much liberty with Dostoevsky’s text while translating the novel in a Victorian manner. A case in point is that in Garnett’s translation the lower class characters speak in Cockney English.

Therefore, it would serve the reader well to sample many translations before deciding on a particular text. In 1990 Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky released a new translation that has been met with much critical and academic acclaim from such sources as The New York Times and the University of Illinois.

3 11 2007
Choose Nine Books for Your Gift Box « Cocking A Snook!

[…] 1. Ann Patchett’s heartbreakingly beautiful and metaphorical “Bel Canto” which is all about love — of music, of chess, of each other, life, freedom and the simplest things — for reasons I recently mentioned here. […]

27 02 2009
Making Another Book Meme My Own « Cocking A Snook!

[…] on that original list, which is a loss imo and one reason to prefer blog-altered versions. No Ann Patchett on either list, hmmm. . […]

27 09 2009
“Ideas Are Incombustible”: Banned Books Week 2009 « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Family and Politics: Ann’s Patchett […]

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