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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,0103061,276 (3.89)3 / 406
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Showing 1-5 of 301 (next | show all)
4 stars... but it may grow on me.

For many months, I was actually stuck on the first 10 pages of this book. I couldn't get past them, and I couldn't make myself do so when I have so many other books lying around.

Still, this is a novel by Ann Patchett. So it was only a matter of time before I meandered down this path again. And once I got past the first 10 pages, I couldn't put it down.

Patchett makes a heroine out of one of the meekest women you're likely to meet either in life or in fiction, Marina Singh, drawing out her strength and character page by page. Dr. Singh is working on drugs for cholesterol in a pharmaceutical lab in Minnesota, when she is thrust into the Amazon to track down the details of a colleague's death, by way of a former mentor, whose clinical curtness changed the course of Marina's life more than a decade beforehand. And Marina is so shrunken as a person that she thinks Dr. Swenson can't possibly remember the life-changing event they shared so long ago.

Dr. Annick Swenson is akin to Conrad's Kurtz, a Westerner who finds herself in the jungle, and changes her life in ways that leave her unable to bear Western civilization for more than a couple days at a time. Therein lies one of her flaws: she is Western enough to keep a box at the opera at Manaus, Western enough to get the pharmaceutical company to foot the bill for that, a luxury apartment she uses for about 2 weeks a year, and everything else she wants or needs from the West; yet she is removed long enough from it all that she rejects all obeisance to the hierarchy that provides these comforts and liberties to her. It's easy to judge the Brazilians as Brazilians, the Lakashi as Lakashi, the Americans as Americans - to see the way they understand the world and interpret their actions by their own standards. But Swenson, and her lackeys the Bovenders, don't stand as noble characters unsullied by societal standards; rather they appear as opportunists, choosing the path that offers them the least moral resistance.

Dr. Swenson takes this path in an extreme way twice (that we know of), both times telling people that someone has died, rather than be bothered to explain the truth of the situation. While she acknowledges that these actions will seem harsh to someone like Marina, she feels no guilt. Her economy of emotion could be sold as a variety of things - mild Asperger's, perhaps, or the result of a life devoted to science and devoid of family ties. Patchett does not steer the reader or Marina in a particular judgment here. But this reader sees Swenson as purely selfish.

It is a treat to read a story about two female scientists. It's also a treat to see the recognition and respect these women get in a tribal society, where the contributions of each member matter more than the gender. The symbolism of both of these women getting their starts in obstetrics, and now exploring a culture that has women with no menopause, bearing children until they die, is rich, and best left to each reader to ponder and discuss with friends.

The lushness of the Amazon, the meaninglessness of time at the Equator, in the jungle, the ease with which Marina accustoms herself to this alien world are also worth pondering. As with Bel Canto, Patchett has created a time and place set aside from the linear world. She is a master storyteller, and no second spent reading her books is ever a second wasted. ( )
  LauraCerone | May 26, 2016 |
Interesting contrast between life of a pharmacologist in Minnesota and her life in Brazil as she searches the fate of a colleague in Brazil. ( )
  Lylee | Apr 3, 2016 |
The descriptions are beautiful and yes it paints an amazing picture for the reader...but, the plot plods along so slowly that those beautiful descriptions become tedious and boring. And after all the work of setting up what could have been an incredible ending, I felt that the author sped through the ending, leaving the reader with some good guesses as to what comes next, but nothing that was fully satisfying. ( )
  mashiaraqcs | Mar 29, 2016 |
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is an atmospheric novel that opens in Minnesota and travels to the Amazon jungles of Brazil. In the opening we learn that a lab doctor, Dr. Anders Eckman, has died and been buried in the jungle. Eckman was sent down to Brazil to check on the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson's research in the development of a new drug. After his death, Eckman's lab mate, Dr. Marina Singh, is sent to Brazil to find out what happened to Eckman and to complete the task he had been charged with: getting answers from Dr. Swenson about her research. Marina knew Swenson years ago, as an instructor in medical school. This relationship was troubled and Marina is not looking forward to meeting Swenson again.

Once Marina arrives in Brazil, readers will know that they are not in Minnesota anymore. Patchett does an excellent job describing the heavy heat and humidity, the raucous, blood-thirsty activity of the insects. Through Patchett's descriptions you can feel the oppressive heat and the torment from insect bites. You will understand Marina's frustration as a couple Swenson has hired try to keep her from meeting the doctor and getting answers.

Swenson's research involves a fertility drug. There is a tree whose bark, when eaten, allows woman to have children well into their old age. The tree is only in this one area of the Amazon and only used by this one tribe. All of that explains the secrecy behind the location of Swenson's research lab, but also brings to mind questions about the exploitation of the indigenous people, their way of life, and their land by the pharmaceutical company.

From the opening you know you are in for a treat. Patchett's prose is exquisite. She is such a wordsmith it is a pleasure reading her writing. She can describe a scene and you will feel it as the characters do. The characters themselves are all fully realized. You believe that they could be real people thrust into this wondrous experience. Even when you are doubting the tree and it's bark, she manages to convince you through her words that it is real, that this all happened, and that Dr. Marina Singh was transformed in the jungles of Brazil.

My only complain, and it really isn't one, is that the end came so abruptly. I wanted more. I not sure if my desire for more would have improved the story, however, so perhaps it's just based on wanting more of Patchett's writing.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best: http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/ ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Book of the Month Club said this book was a "stunning tale about science and sacrifice set in the Amazonian jungle." I think not. Overall, the book was enjoyable, and I did find myself making more effort to find time to read it; however, that effort was, perhaps, more a result of buying a bit into some of the hype about the "stunning" part of the description rather than being absorbed by it. Being aware of what some others have said about the author's "Bel Canto", I thought maybe this book would be fabulous. Suffice to say that the last 20 pages did not surprise me a bit although I think they were supposed to do that for the reader - I felt the author could certainly have expanded quite a bit more in the end stage. In summary, therefore, I felt a bit underwhelmed, strangely unsatisfied with the ending, and certainly not "stunned" by the book. ( )
  highlander6022 | Mar 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 301 (next | show all)
In her latest novel, Ann Patchett, author of the beloved Bel Canto, takes her readers down the Amazon and deep into the rain forest in a book that is part adventure story, part morality tale...This book may be on a lot of book club lists already — but with good reason...
added by Jcambridge | editNPR, Lynn Neary (Jan 1, 2012)
State of Wonder is heavy with literary parallels (to Henry James, to Greek myth), but in this respect the strongest links are to Heart of Darkness, a novel that Patchett substantially rewrites, with Conrad's male text repopulated with female characters (Swenson is this book's Kurtz). It lacks the developed emotional core of Patchett's earlier books, but it is her most mature work to date, a novel that tries to be more alive to the nerve ends of philosophical life than to the simpler machinery of character motivation.
“State of Wonder” is an engaging, consummately told tale. Patchett’s deadpan narrative style showcases a dry humor that enables her to wed, with fine effect, the world of “Avatar” or the “Odyssey” with that of corporate board meetings, R&D reports and peer review...

“State of Wonder” is an immensely touching novel, although as with much of Patchett’s work, its emotional impact is somewhat muted by her indefatigable niceness.
Nail-biting action scenes include a young boy’s near-mortal crushing by a 15-foot anaconda, whose head Marina lops off with a machete; they’re balanced by contemplative moments that give this gripping novel spiritual and metaphysical depth, right down to the final startling plot twist.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Feb 1, 2011)

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ann Patchettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Daddio, Jennifer AnnDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, HopeReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duval, NateCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferguson, ArchieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my friend Jo VanDevender
First words
The news of Anders' Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Years ago, Marina Singh traded the hard decisions and intensity of medical practice for the quieter world of research at a pharmaceutical company, a choice that has haunted her life. Enveloping herself in safety, limiting emotional risk, she shares a quiet intimacy with her widowed older boss. Mr. Fox, and a warm friendship with her colleague Anders Eckman. But Marina's security is shaken when she learns that Anders, sent to the Amazon to check on a field team, is dead - and Mr. Fox wants her to go into the jungle to discover what happened. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the unknown, down into the Amazonian delta, deep into the dense, insect-infested jungle, to find answers from the company's research team. Led by the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, the scientists are looking into the development of a new drug that could have a profound impact on Western society. But the team has been silent for two years, and Dr. Swenson does not like interlopers inserting themselves into her work, as Marina well knows. The eminent and fiercely uncompromising doctor was once her mentor, the woman she admired, emulated, and feared. To fulfill her mission, Marina must confront the ghosts of her past, as well as unfulfilled dreams and ecxpectations-on a journey that will force her to make painful moral choices and take her to the depths of her own heart of darkness. (ARC)
Haiku summary
endless river
love lost
love found

Everything's easy
after killing


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0062049801, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself. --Jessica Schein

Amazon Exclusive: Elizabeth Gilbert Interviews Ann Patchett

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection Pilgrims—a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ.

Elizabeth Gilbert: As your close personal friend, I happen to know that you traveled to the Amazon to conduct research for this novel, and that you sort of hated the Amazon--can you share a little about that?

Ann Patchett: I absolutely loved the Amazon for four days. It was gorgeous and unfamiliar and deeply fascinating. Unfortunately, I stayed there for ten days. There are a lot of insects in the Amazon, a lot of mud, surprisingly few vegetables, too many snakes. You can’t go anywhere by yourself, which makes sense if you don’t know the terrain, but I enjoy going places by myself. I can see how great it would be for a very short visit, and how great it would be if you lived there and had figured out what was and wasn’t going to kill you, but the interim length of time isn’t great.

EG: Didn't I hear that you have a sort of magical story about a friend who is also a writer, who was also once going to write a book about the Amazon? Can you share this miraculous tale? Also, is your writer friend pretty?

AP: This friend of mine, who happens to be you, is gorgeous, and much taller in real life. Yes, you were writing a novel about the Amazon, and then you decided not to write a novel about the Amazon, and then I started writing a novel about the Amazon, and later when we compared notes (your book dismissed, mine halfway finished) they had remarkably similar story lines, to the point of being eerie. I thought this must be because it was an incredibly banal idea and we had both come up with a generic Amazon novel, but then you told me that ideas fly around looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with you it came to me. If this is true I think your name should be on the cover. It would increase sales significantly.

EG: Readers of your prior work--particularly the luminous Bel Canto--will be delighted to see that opera makes an appearance in this novel, as well. In fact, one of the most dramatic scenes in the book takes place at the opera. Is that a wink and a nod to loyal readers, or just an expression of your own deep and abiding musical passions?

AP: It’s a wink and a nod to Werner Herzog and his brilliant Amazon film “Fitzcarraldo” which opens at the opera house in Manaus where the aforementioned scene takes place. I had very little experience with opera when I wrote Bel Canto, and since then it’s become a huge part of my life. It was fun to write a scene set at the opera now that I know what I’m talking about.

EG: State of Wonder a rollicking adventure story, full of peril and bravery and death-defying action. I personally know you to be a homebody who likes to bake muffins for neighbors. How the heck did you pull off this wildness so convincingly? Was it as invigorating to write as it is to read?

AP: Ah, the life of the mind. All the adventure I need I can dream up in my kitchen. I love writing outside of my own experience, making imaginary worlds. If I wrote novels based on my own life I would not be making a living at this. I also love to write a strong plot. I want things to happen in my books, I want to be thrilled. I always think about Raymond Chandler. I’m sure I’m getting the phrasing wrong but the general idea is that when things get slow, bring in a man with a gun. If you can’t find a gun, a poison arrow works just as well.

EG: The cover is a work of beauty. Authors are not always so lucky. Tell us how you managed such a miracle?

AP: When I first started writing this book, I came downstairs one night and found my husband listening to “Horowitz at Carnegie Hall”. The album cover has a very lush filigreed border. I had two thoughts: first, I have an amazing husband who thankfully held onto his Horowitz LPs; second, that the album cover had the exact the feeling I wanted for my book--half jungle, half Baroque period. When I was finished writing the novel I sent the album to my editor, who sent it to the art department. They understood exactly what I was talking about.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:38 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past.

» see all 5 descriptions

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