I liked the premise of this even though the Stockholm syndrome (when someone falls in love with a kidnapper) is nothing new. Patchett does a great job with all the moments in the novel in which a few characters communicate deeply (sometimes even without a common language); she also manages to keep things entertaining even though the setting never changes and ultimately not much happens that is unexpected (they wait for 4+ months and then the military breaks in and shoots the "bad guys").
It was a well developed character piece with no real change; just growth of characters and commentary on the "greyness" of deciding who is ultimately a "good guy" and who is a "bad guy."
I thought the fact that the president was not there simply because he was at home watching a soap opera to be hysterical. I read that this is loosely based on a real-life hostage situation; I'm not sure if this detail is accurate or not, but either way it was very funny.
Ultimately, the novel is about love. It starts this theme with the Thibaults renewed affection. Simon realizes once he has been exiled to this "godforsaken" country that he does really love his wife: "he found her again, like something he never knew was missing, like a song he had memorized in his youth and had then forgotten. Suddenly, clearly, he could see her, the way he had been able to see her at twenty, not her physical self at twenty, because in every sense she was more beautiful to him now, but he felt that old sensation, the leaping of his heart, the reckless flush of desire." I think there is much to be said of the difference between the first bloom of new love and the enduring love of the long married. Thibault is startled back into noticing his wife (rather than just co-existing with her) and Patchett's prose describes this well.
Next, we see the love of the famous. Certainly, some of the guests are in love with the opera (something I don't share and don't quite get. I understand the beauty of song and I have seen my share of operas, but ultimately music does not reach me the way that it would some. One complaint I had about this book was that EVERYONE in it...including the most jaded of guerillas are in love with both the opera and Roxane), and see Roxane as a physical representation of the music. Others, are in love with her as a celebrity: "(with the exception of the priest, who she could not understand) all the men in their desire to speak to her had decided to leave her alone as if it was some sort of respect, so alone she sat." I was not convinced that everyone in the room should react in this same way.
Finally, Patchett explores new romantic love between couples (Gen/Carmen and Roxane/Mr. Hosokawa). These couples are ultimately very different (especially since one of them do not share a language), but both relationships are based on mutual respect and admiration. I also thought it was fitting that Gen and Roxane are married in the end. After all, Roxane was the first woman to whom Gen said "I love you": "It simply had not occurred to him to say it and now on the first day of his life when it might have been appropriate to speak of love to a woman, he would be declaring it for another man to another woman." Unfortunately, she was not the first woman he loved; but one can understand how such a life changing experience (not just the kidnapping, but the loss of a newly found loved one) could bring the two together. No one else could quite understand their feelings for each other and for the lost ones.
Overall it was entertaining and well written with some poignant moments. I wasn't completely sold on all of it, though which is why I only have it 4 (and not 5) stars.