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University of Iowa News Release

Release: March 12, 2003

UI Center For Human Rights Selects 'Bel Canto' For Fall 2003 Book Project

To allow book groups, teachers, librarians, and others to plan their participation in its Fall 2003 "One Community, One Book - Johnson County Reads" project (formerly known as "All Johnson County Reads the Same Book"), The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) is announcing now its selection for the project which will run Sept. 22-Nov. 15. The Center, in conjunction with representatives from Iowa City, Coralville and the University of Iowa, has selected "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett.

Winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, "Bel Canto" is a moving and often surprising story of terrorism gone awry and the power of music to create unlikely connections between disparate people.

As opera star Roxanne Coss completes her performance during a birthday party thrown by a small South American government for a powerful Japanese businessman, the lights go out and the entire party is taken hostage by a group of terrorists hoping to kidnap the country's (absent) president. Failing to capture their intended prize, the terrorists settle in for a long siege inside the vice-president's home. Across barriers of language and culture, the captives -- and eventually their captors -- create a functioning, if uneasy, community centered on the beauty of Coss' art. Her singing bridges the distance, if only temporarily, between kidnapper and kidnapped.

"Bel Canto" invites contemplation of a range of issues, including human rights concerns and aesthetic questions. A gripping story that neither moralizes nor falls victim to cliche, "Bel Canto" is buoyed by Patchett's warm and wry prose. "Bel Canto" has been hailed as "A marvel of a book" by The Washington Post Book World and will appeal to a wide array of readers while sparking lively discussions.

The overall goal of the project is to encourage people to read the selected book, and through public and private discussion, develop a greater community awareness of human rights issues. Questions will be available online on the UICHR website at the start of the 2003-2004 academic year. Many public discussions of the book at diverse locations will be scheduled during the eight-week period.

The UI Center for Human Rights is working to arrange for Patchett, who attended the UI Writers Workshop in the 1980s, to visit Iowa City and read from and comment on her book at the end of the community reading. More information about Patchett and her book is available online at a number of sites, including Additional questions should be directed to the project coordinator, Dorothy M. Paul, UICHR Associate Director for Community Affairs

The "One Community, One Book -Johnson County Reads" planning committee also recommends the following three "runner-up" books: "When the Emperor was Divine" by Julia Otsuka; "Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich; and "Macho" by Victor Villasenor.

In addition to The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, other project sponsors are the UI International writing Program, Prairie Lights Books, Coralville Public Library, Hancher Auditorium, Iowa Book LLC, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Iowa City Public Library, Iowa City Press-Citizen, UI Charter Committee on Human Rights, UI International Programs and University Book Store. Iowa City High School and West High School Library are also participating.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT(S): Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, Program: Dorothy M. Paul, UICHR Associate Director for Community Affairs,