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Ann Patchett

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The Patron Saint of Liars


Magician’s Assistant

Ann Patchett

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or
the publisher.

Copyright ©
2001 by Ann Patchett.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except
in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


Ann Patchett
asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Mobipocket Reader E-book edition v 1.
May 2001 ISBN: 0-0607-7160-7

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

Karl VanDevender

Sprecher: Ihr Fremdlinge!
sucht oder fordert ihn von uns?

Tamino: Freundschaft und Liebe.

Sprecher: Bist du bereit, es mit
deinem Leben zu erkämpfen?




Speaker: Stranger, what do you seek or ask from us?

Tamino: Friendship and love.

Speaker: And are you prepared even if it costs you
your life?

Tamino: I am.













Friendship and Love: An Interview with Ann Patchett

About the Author


About the Publisher



the lights went off the accompanist
kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely
dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a
gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss. They
did not
kiss, that
would have been impossible. The darkness that came on them was startling and
complete. Not only was everyone there certain of a kiss, they claimed they
could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her
by surprise. They were all looking right at her when the lights went out. They
were still applauding, each on his or her feet, still in the fullest throes of
hands slapping together, elbows up. Not one person had come anywhere close to
tiring. The Italians and the French were yelling,
“Brava! Brava!”
and the Japanese turned away from them. Would he have kissed her like that had
the room been lit? Was his mind so full of her that in the very instant of
darkness he reached for her, did he think so quickly? Or was it that they
wanted her too, all of the men and women in the room, and so they imagined it
collectively. They were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to
cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in. Maybe music could be transferred,
devoured, owned. What would it mean to kiss the lips that had held such a

Some of them had loved her for years. They had
every recording she had ever made. They kept a notebook and wrote down every
place they had seen her, listing the music, the names of the cast, the
conductor. There were others there that night who had not heard her name, who
would have said, if asked, that opera was a collection of nonsensical cat
screechings, that they would much rather pass three hours in a dentist’s chair.
These were the ones who wept openly now, the ones who had been so mistaken.

No one was frightened of the darkness. They
barely noticed. They kept applauding. The people who lived in other countries
assumed that things like this must happen here all the time. Lights go on, go
off. People from the host country knew it to be true. Besides, the timing of
the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights
You have no need for
sight. Listen.
What no one stopped to think about was why the candles on
every table went out as well, perhaps at that very moment or the moment before.
The room was filled with the pleasant smell of candles just snuffed, a smoke
that was sweet and wholly unthreatening. A smell that meant it was late now,
time to go to bed.

They continued the applause. They assumed she
continued her kiss.

Roxane Coss, lyric soprano, was the only reason
Mr. Hosokawa had come to this country. Mr. Hosokawa was the reason everyone
else had come to the party. It was not the kind of place one was likely to
visit. The reason the host country (a poor country) was throwing a birthday
party of unreasonable expense for a foreigner who had to be all but bribed into
attending was that this foreigner was the founder and chairman of Nansei, the
largest electronics corporation in
. It was the fondest wish of
the host country that Mr. Hosokawa would smile on them, help them in some of
the hundred different ways they needed helping. That could be achieved through
training or trade. A factory (and this was the dream so dear its name could
hardly be spoken) could be built here, where cheap labor could mean a profit
for everyone involved. 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
and make trafficking of those very drugs less conspicuous. But the plan had
never taken root in the past, as the Japanese, by nature, erred on the side of
caution. They believed in the danger and the rumors of danger countries such as
this presented, so to have Mr. Hosokawa himself, not an executive vice
president, not a politician, come and sit at the table was proof that a hand
might be extended. And maybe that hand would have to be coaxed and begged. Maybe
it would have to be pulled from its own deep pocket. But this visit, with its
glorious birthday dinner replete with opera star, with several meetings planned
and trips to possible factory sites tomorrow, was a full world closer than they
had ever come before and the air in the room was sugared with promise. Representatives
from more than a dozen countries who had been misled as to the nature of Mr.
Hosokawa’s intentions were present at the party, investors and ambassadors who
might not encourage their governments to put a dime into the host country but
would certainly support Nansei’s every endeavor, now circled the room in black
tie and evening gown, making toasts and laughing.

As far as Mr. Hosokawa was concerned, his trip
was not for the purposes of business, diplomacy, or a friendship with the
President, as later would be reported. Mr. Hosokawa disliked travel and did not
know the President. He had made his intentions, or lack of intentions,
abundantly clear. He did not plan to build a plant. He would never have agreed
to a trip to a strange country to celebrate his birthday with people he did not
know. He was not much for celebrating his birthday with people he did know, and
certainly not his fifty-third, which he considered to be a number entirely
without note. He had turned down half a dozen strong requests from these very
people, for this exact party, until the promised gift was the presence of
Roxane Coss.

And if she was the present, who would decline? No
matter how far away, how inappropriate, how misleading it might prove to be,
who would say no?



But first remember another birthday, his
eleventh, the birthday on which Katsumi Hosokawa first heard opera, Verdi’s
. His father had taken him to
by train and together they walked to
the theater in a steady downpour. It was October 22 and so it was a cold autumn
rain and the streets were waxed in a paper-thin layer of wet red leaves. When
they arrived at the Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall, their undershirts were
wet beneath coats and sweaters. The tickets waiting inside Katsumi Hosokawa’s
father’s billfold were wet and discolored. They did not have especially good
seats, but their view was unobstructed. In 1954, money was precious; train
tickets and operas were unimaginable things. In a different time, such a
production would have seemed too complicated for a child, but this was only a
handful of years after the war and children then were much more likely to
understand a whole host of things that might seem impossible for children now. They
climbed the long set of stairs to their row, careful not to look down into the
dizzying void beneath them. They bowed and begged to be excused by every person
who stood to let them pass into their seats, and then they unfolded their seats
and slipped inside. They were early, but other people were earlier, as part of
the luxury that came with the ticket price was the right to sit quietly in this
beautiful place and wait. They waited, father and son, without speaking, until
finally the darkness fell and the first breath of music stirred from someplace
far below them. Tiny people, insects, really, slipped out from behind the
curtains, opened their mouths, and with their voices gilded the walls with
their yearning, their grief,
boundless, reckless
love that would lead each one to separate ruin.

BOOK: Ann Patchett
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