Bel Canto Wins 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award

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Ann Patchett has won the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for Bel Canto, which was a Top Ten Book Sense 76 selection last year. The prize awards the writer $15,000, making it the largest juried award for fiction in the U.S.

In addition, the other four finalists for the award will receive $5,000 each. They are: Karen Joy Fowler, author of Sister Moon; Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections; Claire Messud, author of The Hunters; and Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu. The Franzen and Suri titles were also Book Sense 76 selections.

Published in May 2001, Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country and tells the story of the evolving relationships between a group of terrorists and the captives they are holding in the vice-presidential mansion. One of the central characters is an internationally acclaimed opera diva, who has been retained to sing at the birthday party of a Japanese industrialist.

Coming months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, the book received an overwhelming positive critical reception, and, after the attacks, was cited as a title that might bring comfort in a time of acute anxiety. In the Washington Post Book World, author Robb Forman Dew wrote, "Bel Canto is its own universe. It is a marvel of a book. It delineates the way we manage to sustain hope and all the things we must forget in order to experience joy and reasonably pursue the very human desire to be happy."

Patchett herself noted that "I have often wondered what would have happened if I’d have been on p. 150 on September 11. I don’t regret anything," and she added that the word terrorism "just means something else now," as reported by the Washington Post.