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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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4,4233311,108 (3.89)3 / 456
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Showing 1-5 of 328 (next | show all)
Okay, so why do I keep picking up these books that have such great undertones related to undertaking research? It may be because I am now embarking on my dissertation research for my doctoral thesis that such undertones are coming forth. However, I prefer to think the great, good book gods have put these gems in my hands for a purpose. They are telling me to listen. If I were to teach research ethics, this book would be on the reading list accompanied by class discussions. In academia, Human Subjects through our Institutional Review Boards requires we do no harm in the research we undertake. The difficulty comes in determining what 'do no harm' means. In State of Wonder, readers become intwined with U.S. researchers in their arrogance determining what is right and wrong with questionable consequences. These consequences stick with you well past the last pages providing much food for thought. ( )
  Christina_E_Mitchell | Sep 9, 2017 |
Did not finish. I tried. Sorry. Found it boring. Made my head fuzzy. The setting was also not a place I was interested in. I couldn't muster up enough like or curiosity about Marina to continue. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is the story of a quest. When Marina Singh’s lab partner Anders dies in Brazil, her boss and his widow both ask her to follow in his footsteps and look for answers. Their employer has been financing pharmacological research on extending fertility, the “Lost Horizon of American ovaries.” The researcher is Annika Swenson, an implacable iconoclastic teacher and researcher who had been Marina’s professor years before. Swenson refuses to provide progress reports so Anders was dispatched for answers and how he’s dead.

This is no mystery story, though. It’s an exploration of the themes of imperialism, of what happens to people of the modern era when they interact with isolated, traditional cultures, what happens when we go to the heart of darkness, because that’s what this story really is about. Marina is Marlow going down the river. She even has to wait in Manaus as Marlow waited at the Company’s Outer Station. There’s a company agent to tell her how wonderful Swenson is, and there are the bohemian Bovenders who praise Swenson as rhapsodically as Kurtz was praised.

Like Marlow, civilization is stripped away from Marina. She loses her luggage, not once, but twice. When she arrives, a child urinates on blouse and the women give her one of their shifts, she thinks they intend to clean her clothes, but they are never returned. No wonder when they stop at neighboring village where tourists gather, she is grabbed by tourists to pose for pictures with a “native”. Like Kurtz, Swenson is dogmatic, absolutely certain of her judgment, and seemingly all-powerful. She claims to have “tamed” the Lakashi without irony or self-reflection. Both Marina and Swenson suffer illness. Marina and Marlow even struggle with how much they can and should tell others of what they learn.

Of course, Marlow went up the Congo and Marina goes up the Amazon, named after the warrior women of mythology and this story is very much about women. It’s not just that Marina and Annika are women; it’s that one of the moral questions get at women’s fertility, that Lost Horizon and whether that is really a boon for women or their children.

Ann Patchett is a wonderful prose stylist. She can write things that are so perfect. When she arrives in Manaus “every insect in the Amazon lifted its head from the leaf it was masticating and turned a slender antenna in her direction.” She’s been ill and the anti-malarial medicine she takes gives her nightmares, but then she goes to the opera and “then the orchestra struck a note that brought her back to herself. Every pass of the cellists’ bows across the cellos’ strings scraped away a bit of her confusion, and the woodwinds returned her to strength.”

She trained as an obstetrician and performed a disastrous C-section. During the story, she delivers more children through C-section without the amenities and cleanliness of an operating room, but she also delivers a child from the death-grip of an anaconda, using a machete instead of scalpel, she carefully cuts him away, bringing him back to life.

There is this imperialist worldview, from the outset, the whole point of the research is to learn the secret of their prolonged female fertility, to extract their secrets for the benefit of women in the developed world. Swenson, though, does not want to “interfere” and withhold antibiotics when they are sick. The Amazonian tribe that Swenson studies is mysterious and completely Other. They don’t speak English and the scientists, including Swenson who has spent 50 years among them, do not bother to learn their language. Then there is Easter, this perfect nature-child who does not speak and cannot hear thanks to childhood meningitis, is loved by all, all who seem to think they can decide his future. Easter, in fact, becomes a pawn.

This is a well-written and thought-provoking book. I confess that it was slow-going in Minnesota and Manaus and only really got moving when it got to the Amazon. It’s a book that asks us difficult questions and does not answer them, asking us to think for ourselves.

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/9780062049810/ ( )
1 vote Tonstant.Weader | Jun 13, 2017 |
What a captivating story. Marinas work colleague is in the Brazilian Amazonas to see the right since the company never again hears something of the project that they finance. When the death message of her colleague came Marina went to Manaus. When she finally arrives at the camp, she quickly realizes that it is not just about researching fertility into old age, but also about permanent protection against malaria.
What fascinates me is that the leader of the camp is so anxious not to disclose this native tribe to the public, so that they can continue to live according to their old traditions. This is and was one of the biggest problems of the Amazon inhabitants. ( )
  Ameise1 | May 10, 2017 |
Set mostly in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, this tale follows Dr. Marina Singh as she searches for answers. The pharmaceutical company she works for is concerned about the secretive research Dr. Annick Swenson is involved in. Just recently, another colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman, has died while searching for the same answers. Now Marina is dually tasked in discovering the status of Swenson’s research and digging up the details of Eckman’s death.

Where to start with this book? It was intense and kept me riveted to my audiobook player. Let’s start with Dr. Swenson. She once worked at a hospital and taught interns some of the finer points about birthing babies. Marina was once such a student but a mistake changed the trajectory of her career and she ended up in pharmaceuticals. Throughout most of this story, she has vivid dreams where memory and fears collide and some of those concern Dr. Swenson and her opinion on Marina’s worthiness. Dr. Swenson is a terribly blunt person who has high standards for everyone, including herself. This makes her rather abrasive. Yet the fact that she’s often logical and correct makes her a fascinating character. Nearly all her actions and words are calculated without giving a fig for people’s feelings.

Then we have Marina. She starts off a bit timid. She’s in her 40s and her past mistakes seem to haunt her and cause her to question her decisions. She also seems to be a bit of a pushover, letting the company boss ship her off to Brazil in this quest for answers. Yet it is there in the heart of the jungle that she gains confidence and becomes a stronger person for it. I really enjoyed her story arc.

This book made me question some of my assumptions about medical ethics. This tale shows me that what is right in a modern hospital with sanitary conditions and a pretty universal understanding of the most basic medical ideas isn’t always applicable in a jungle field office where there isn’t a mutually understood language. There were several great scenes where Dr. Swenson, who has been working with this jungle tribe for decades, is doing what she’s been doing for decades and Marina questions the ethics of the situation. The punch comes when Swenson calmly lays out the facts and why what they are doing is the best choice. It was hard to disagree with Swenson.

Now there is Easter. He’s perhaps 12 and he comes from a neighboring tribe that is rather combative to any outsiders. Swenson treated him when he was very young and now acts as his surrogate parent. He’s deaf but can make verbal sounds (though he usually only does so when he has a nightmare). He’s clever and Dr. Eckman taught him the very basics of the alphabet. Easter knows something of what happened to Eckman but Marina isn’t sure she will ever get answers about Eckman’s passing.

The medical mystery they were researching was interesting as well. The women of the local tribe stay fertile well into their 70s or 80s. Plus there is a side mystery that Swenson is very excited about and that involves a possible vaccination for malaria. The story has just enough science and medical talk to add to the story but not enough to leave the non-science person scratching their heads.

All around, it was a most excellent novel. It does wrench the emotions out of the reader later in the book. I loved that it made me question some central medical ethics. The characters were also very interesting. Ah! Easter!

The Narration: Hope Davis was just fabulous! She had distinct character voices and was great at switching between them swiftly and clearly when the characters were in conversation. She also had believable male voices. Her Dr. Swenson was clipped and brutal in her speech, just as I expect she would be in real life. ( )
  DabOfDarkness | May 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 328 (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 editionscalculated
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
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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.
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(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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