This book was unbelievably good. I mean it. I was totally taken aback by how much I enjoyed it. I read and reviewed Patron Saint of Liars also written by Ann Patchett and was prepared for this title to be on par, but it wasn’t. What it was, was a book that exceeded my expectations and was well worth the hyperbolic hype that decorated the binding.
Set in a small country in South America, the story follows the fate of several il-fatted birthday party attendees. There is of course, the birthday boy, a high powered Japanese business man who is accompanied by his translator. There are also the honored guests (who had never met the birthday boy but were invited for their titles, their money, or their ability to perhaps help this impoverished nation… the party givers –politicians of the small unnamed county were on the whole an optimistic bunch). Finally there was the world renowned opera singer who honestly was simply there in order to be paid and who unknowingly was the sole reason the birthday boy bothered to attend at all.
But wait! There are also terrorists! A whole group of rag-tag practically barefoot patriots who storm the party and attempt to take the President captive. Except that he, by a delightfully funny set of circumstances that I won’t ruin for you here, is not at the birthday party at all!
Thwarted but undaunted, the terrorists regroup and decide to take the whole party hostage.
What ensues is a four month stalemate with local authorities that sets the stage perfectly for a story about the complexities and yet pure simplicity of communication. We have people falling in love, we have people overcoming stereotypes and bigotry, we have bonds formed that put the idea of the Stockholm Syndrome to shame. We have a story about death and rebirth, a story that weaves voices from around the globe and speaks of the universality of hope. With vivid characters and the tension that all things, even dreams, must come to an end this book had me frantic to finish.
Which is where my only complaint comes. Yes, the ending is a bit expected, but that in no way detracts from the emotional upheaval it delivers. It is the epilogue that seems ill-placed. It is, in some ways, nice to see “what happened next” but in this case I think the story is stronger and holds truer to the essence of the book if the epilogue is ignored.
You will have to read it for yourself and tell me if you agree…