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State of Wonder

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In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, "State of Wonder" presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle.

Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.

Stirring and luminous, "State of Wonder" is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.

353 pages, Hardcover

First published May 3, 2011

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About the author

Ann Patchett

77 books16.3k followers
Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother is the novelist Jeanne Ray.

She moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was six, where she continues to live. Patchett said she loves her home in Nashville with her doctor husband and dog. If asked if she could go any place, that place would always be home. "Home is ...the stable window that opens out into the imagination."

Patchett attended high school at St. Bernard Academy, a private, non-parochial Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. Following graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She later attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she met longtime friend Elizabeth McCracken. It was also there that she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.

In 2010, when she found that her hometown of Nashville no longer had a good book store, she co-founded Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes; the store opened in November 2011. In 2012, Patchett was on the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,692 reviews
Profile Image for Tara.
119 reviews24 followers
July 4, 2011
This book never felt right. The characters were weak and hard to identify with, the plot seemed like something of a time past (yet wasn't), and the outcome of it all was ridiculous. The book would head in one direction for a while, then veer wildly in another. My pet peeve is when authors play fast and loose with characters and established world facts in order to advance plots. Lazy!

Let's go for a ride:
-American researcher dead in the jungle and his colleague goes to Brazil to find out more - REALLY?
-a creepy Australian couple guards the gates? what /was/ this? it was so random and weird and fleeting
-Lakashi have lots of babies, are mostly immune to malaria, but are not a gigantic population. My math doesn't compute on this one
-Dr. Swenson abducts children, moralizes constantly, keeps 18 million secrets and is pregnant at 73 (and - an extension of this - experiments on herself in the jungle. cool!). She's like the matriarch on the soap operas who are always dropping the bad news. "Good job on that c-section. NOW DO MINE." (Insert dramatic music and commercial break)
-other random doctors think everything is awesome AND WHY SHOULDN'T THEY?
-Fantastic Mr. Fox and one of the creepy Australians come to the jungle too! Oh wow, a party!
-Anders is alive! And we can trade the abducted child for him. Great!

Other oddness:
-What was up with all the older man/younger woman couples?
-Marina - is anyone this annoyingly naive?
-Lakashi - anonymous natives = awesome. I felt more character development was done on the boats than this entire (apparently stable) population
-The rainforest ecosystem is considered complex for a reason. This means the solution to two very large problems would probably not be IN THE SAME PLACE
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for carol..
1,516 reviews7,718 followers
March 18, 2015
Alas, I did not reach a state of wonder reading this. I would say I was in State(s) of: Interest, Appreciation, Mild Irritation, Interest Modified by Moments of Irritation, Shock, and then Milder Shock that dwindled into a State of General Annoyance, which would possibly make it the longest book title in history.

A super-summary: Although she trained as an OB/GYN doctor, Marina is working in service of evil a pharmaceutical drug researcher who has studied cholesterol for the past seven years with her co-researcher, Anders Eckman. (For those of you not familiar with the pharmaceutical industry, let me give you the subtext: this product is about making money. Marina has gone from supporting the growth of life and healing to outright capitalism). Anders had been sent to remote Brazil to check in on a study the company is funding, searching for the source of a remote indigenous group's surprising fertility. Coincidentally, the head researcher is Marina's former supervising doctor before she dropped out of the OB/GYN program. One day, the head researcher, Dr. Swenson, sends an note saying Eckman has died, and Mr. Fox, who Marina calls 'Mr. Fox' despite having an affair with him, sends Marina to Brazil to investigate.

Marina's a product of both Indian and Minnesotian Norweigian heritage, and part of State of Wonder seems to be about her reconciling her life. I say "part," because while she is suffering from anti-malaria drug dreams, she usually dreams about her Indian father and not the white mother who raised her. The history never quite makes the jump from dreamland to reality, however, and only emphasizes the extent to which she is disconnected from her own life. The thought of meeting Dr. Swenson again also brings up lingering conflict about her medical residency in obstetrics, and her decision to leave the program.

Apparently, the overall story themes bear some parallels with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which I have not read. Perhaps then this book would have resonated more. But do we really need a feminine re-interpretation and modernization of "man-goes-to-heart-of-Africa" novel? It's rather an obnoxious premise: journeying to the wilderness to find the source of female fecundity. Um. Is it possible to be less literal about the journey to discover self/the heart of female mystery?

I was half expecting the imperialist overtones, so to have a narrator who hails from multiple ethnic backgrounds was an interesting twist. It felt a little like a crutch, however, to have her hail from Minnesota and raised by her white mother; as if then Patchett could draw on her own voice and not develop the voice of someone who moves between multiple cultures. It reminded me quite a bit of Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible in that people who identify with American-dominant culture are transplanted to the most remote place possible and set up to interact with "primitive" cultures. (Understand, I'm in no way calling the other cultures 'primitive,' just that the culture clash is set up as two extremes from an imperialist perspective).

I do enjoy Patchett's prose, which is what ultimately saved this book. The first paragraph begins with an Aerogram, and anyone who has used it can identify with the description of "a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world."

I was particularly moved when Marina wanted to dog to stay as they broke the news of Anders' death to his wife: "'I like dogs,' Marina said, thinking it was vital that he stay. The dog would have to stand in for their minister if they had one. The dog would be Karen's mother, her sister, whoever it was she wished was standing next to her when everything came down. The dog would have to be Anders."

Unfortunately, her prose could not quite bring Marina to full, vivid life. She drifted along a path set by other people, and persisted in lacking any agency in charting her own fate. She is disconnected from herself and her world, making it hard for the reader to care about her. Furthermore, as someone who is deeply immersed in medical culture, I didn't feel she represented or conveyed the voice of someone who invests in medical school to become an OB/GYN. She lacks passion for people, a commitment to her community and a drive to succeed. As a character, we have very little information on how she spends time besides her work in the lab. Dr. Swenson, on the other hand, is a dynamic force of a person, directing, orchestrating, manipulating. She is a far more interesting person, even though she is not particularly likeable.

What ultimately decreased my rating was the ending. Marina spends pages and pages getting to Brazil, pages and pages waiting in the city, Manaus, and then some time acclimating to the jungle, but in the last 25 pages, Marina makes a major discovery and two extremely significant events occur that will reverberate throughout many lives. After the slow build, it was shocking; though it technically resolves plot points, it was an emotional cliffhanger of an ending that seemed remarkably incongruous with the character development we had.

I've enjoyed Patchett's other books, specifically Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant, so I won't take Patchett off my 'authors to watch' list. Two-and-a-half star read.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
September 15, 2022
Mistah Kurtz, he dead, well, Mr. Eckman anyway. At Minnesota-based Vogel pharmaceuticals, weeks-old news of bio-researcher Anders Eckman’s Amazonian demise leads the company to send another scientist to find out what happened, and to complete Eckman’s charge. He had been sent to determine the status of research, on a long-overdue revolutionary fertility drug, being conducted by the reclusive, and somewhat scary Doctor Annick Swenson. (think Kurtz) Pharmacological researcher Marina Singh (think Marlow) is sent to the remote Brazilian research station to investigate. Along the way she has to overcome several obstacles, including a pair of gatekeepers in a Brazilian city, conflict about leaving her significant other, and a fear of facing her former teacher. In addition there are the physical challenges of travelling up-river into this remote and forbidding place, some incoming poison arrows, a plague of insects, a very large snake, and some persistent nightmares.

Ann Patchett – at her bookstore - image from her site

In a road-trip-journey-of-self-discovery story, it is first imperative that one identify with the searcher. While Marina is a somewhat sympathetic character, it is tough to feel wholly supportive of her, let alone empathetic. She has committed some errors in her life, like the rest of us, but she keeps making such dumb mistakes that she makes one think she might have been better off staying home. (Following is borderline spoiler material, so you might want to close your eyes for a line or two.) For instance, she leaves her satellite phone in stowed luggage rather than with her carry-on materials. Any guesses what happens? Yep. Not only does she lose her sat-phone (when the airline mislays her luggage) on arrival in Brazil, she then proceeds to lose all her new belongings once again when she arrives at her up-river destination. There is a much bigger error in judgment that happens near the end but I will spare you that one. Suffice it to say that it makes one shake one’s head and mutter “Schmuck!” I understand that the sequential loss of property is a mechanism for stripping the character down to her core, but if our identification with the searcher is undermined, what is left?

A fair bit actually. What I most enjoyed were the echoes of Joseph Conrad and other classical references to be found here. Conrad’s book had a lot to do with the relationship between the western and third worlds. Marina is herself the embodiment of such diversity, being the product of an Indian (as in South Asian, not Native American) father and a Caucasian American mother. The Congo that Conrad wrote of was a source of natural resources for European colonialists. In this contemporary version, it is the potential for pharmacological resources to be found in Amazonia that the West is looking to exploit. I cannot cite a page number but I am pretty sure there was purple smoke wafting about, which summoned for me an element of Coppola’s cinematic interpretation of Conrad. And Minnesota offers an image of coldness to contrast with the heat of the Brazilian jungle.

In the quest for self-discovery, a Campbell-ian hero ventures from his/her quotidian home, in this case Eden Prairie, where Vogel Pharmaceuticals is ironically located, to a place of supernatural power, slays a dragon, literally or figuratively, thus gaining power, and boogies on home, enlarged. Patchett has some fun with this, naming the company’s Brazilian guide Milton, for example. A young native character is Easter, which must have something to do with sacrifice and return, ya think?
[Marina] understood that in life a person was only allowed one trip down to hell
That she attends an opera of Orpheus and Eurydice reinforces this. What might be thought of as a tree of knowledge shows up as well. Considering the stripping of her externalities that came before, it seems pretty clear that someone is being reborn.
He walked her into the water up to their knees and then up to their waists. It was like a bath, silky and warm. The current was so slight it barely disturbed her clothes. She wanted to lie down in it. Milton dipped his own handkerchief into the water and spread it wet over the top of her head. “It’s better, isn’t it,” he said, though it wasn’t a question.
A harpy eagle, reminiscent of the harpies of mythology, puts in an appearance, toting a soul to Hades, no doubt. In fact, birds show up a fair bit.

The pharmaceutical company in question is called Vogel, German for bird. A large white bird, a jaribu stork, flaps through. In Egyptian mythology, this bird is associated with the soul of the dead communicating with the living. Feathered friends pop up a few more times, but I did not catch any obvious (or easily researchable) references from them. Marina is seen in avian plumage as well:
she was unsteady in her shoes, which, along with the ridiculous dress, made her the human equivalent of a bird with a broken wing to any predator who might be out trawling the streets late at night.
The color purple, the color, not the story, turns up several times. This is usually associated with either royalty or spirituality. I am going with the latter here. OK, OK. I know I tend to go overboard with such things, and it is always possible, likely even, that the author did not intend all these references. But just in case.

Finally hope as a theme comes into play. The core of the jungle research is a fertility drug. What could symbolize hope more than that? The dead researcher’s wife charges Marina with the task of finding out just what happened to her late husband. She harbors faint hope that he might still be alive. Swenson’s dedication to her work, and to keeping the corporate suits at bay, is based on hope for a great scientific breakthrough. Marina gains some hope of redemption. On the other hand:
Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody keeps pulling and pulling it.
But then:
Had they not been so hopeful [Marina’s parents] and guileless her birth would have been impossible.
Maybe things in Patchett’s tale are not quite so dark as in Coppola’s bleak vision, or as in Conrad’s. Some light does seep through. State of Wonder can feel slow—maybe like a journey up-river?—but while the story takes a long time to get where it is going, it is an enjoyable read, particularly if you like playing literary treasure hunt, as I do. There is content to be had, questions raised, moral dilemmas to be resolved, and some bio-tech issues to consider. This is a thoughtful, interesting, and ultimately a wonderful read.

Review first posted in 2011

Published - May 13, 2011

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram, and FB pages

Aside from the personal link, all others center on her bookstore, Parnassus Books
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Danielle McClellan.
553 reviews51 followers
July 28, 2017
I thought that Ann Patchett had made her great contribution to literature with "Bel Canto," which seemed to me to be the perfect novel, and stays high on the list of my very favorites. It is the book that I sold by hand as a bookseller and the book that I still pass along to friends. I should keep a stack of them since I have handed mine off so many times that I never know if I have a copy or not. The book is a jewel box of structure, character, and language that left me overwhelmed with admiration.

Since reading that book, I have read Patchett's other books and enjoyed them all, particularly "Run," but never again have I had that out-of-body, transcendent reading experience until now. "State of Wonder" is absolutely mind-boggling good. I have just finished it in a straight reading jag that thankfully fell when the kids were out of town with my husband for the weekend (otherwise, I am afraid that it would have been bad-mommy mac and cheese and a cartoon movie in order to carve out the reading time I needed).

I don't want to give anything away, except to say that this is "Heart of Darkness" recast in contemporary Brazil, and Patchett's heroine, who goes into the forest on a mission and finds herself tested at every point, is beautifully rendered. I dare any reader to put the book down during the final fifty pages. It is a fantastic, inevitable ending that I never saw coming.
May 21, 2021
State of Wonder is a story that conveys a wonderful adventure of stunning scope and scenery. Marina Singh is sent into the isolated regions of the Rio Negro to investigate the death of one colleague and meet up with her former professor and team leader Dr Swenson. Dr Swenson has been pursuing a biologic drug candidate which could revolutionise treatment for women. The investors, funding the research, are keen to understand the details, but it is shrouded in secrecy. Will they ever get it out of the Amazon basin or will it remain another secret of the rainforest?

The narrative keeps us balanced between the wonders of the remote rainforests and the dangers ready to inflict damage at any moment. The wonderful writing creates imagery that enables us to step inside this world and see the expanse and allure of the rainforests, feel the humidity and atmosphere of the jungle, and get a sense of the hidden tribes in these regions. Many tribes have never engaged with the outside world and some are still cannibalistic, while others have accepted interactions with these strangers. Each tribe is very territorial with its own unique characteristics and secrets. There is a wonderful feeling of authenticity through the rituals and cultures as they dictate so much of the actions taken. Many are just so alien to our experiences.

I love the pace Ann Patchett delivers in her books that is gentle and flowing and just keeps you wanting to turn the pages. It is a brilliant engrossing story of exceptional insight and the fantastic backdrop of the rainforest. I love Patchett's writing style and I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
475 reviews1,309 followers
June 8, 2020
It’s a wonder I never got to this sooner!
There is always something mystical when a story takes you into the depths of the Amazon where civilization doesn’t exist; tribes and their cultures are what does.
Marina Singh is sent down by the pharmaceutical company she works for to track down a researcher who ignores all contact with the outside world and to find out how another close colleague of hers died while there.
Vivid colours, wildlife, insects, dreams and extraordinary customs.
Reminiscent of Euphoria and The Poisonwood Bible.
Getting lost is darkness but at times it brings a startling light.
Profile Image for Clare.
1,460 reviews307 followers
February 20, 2012

A scientific jungle experiment/investigation involving an elderly and rather secretive matriarchal doctor who leads the experiment, a missing/deceased company representative who was sent to investigate what the experiment is up to, and a female company representative (who happens to also be a former medical student of the matriarch) who is sent to investigate what happened to the previous company representative.

In spite of lengthy descriptions of the experiment and professorial soliloquising by the matriarch, the science and ethics of the experiment is secondary to the drama of the story, and perhaps because I didn't really care for any of the characters I cared even less about their dramas. The general plot kept the story going in an unobjectionable direction: the experiment was a little bizarre (extending the fertility of women beyond the normal time of menopause) but the direction the matriarch headed with it was fairly balanced, and she combined it with experiments that were more urgently needed for the health of the poor.

Yet many of the characters had confused little escapades along the way, the main character is in a non-public physical relationship with her 20-years senior boss, and . The two specific scenes were described, but more 'poetically' than graphically.

Personally I don't think it's worth the read, but if melodramatic and rather bizarre scientific experiments set in the middle of the jungle and told in the style of a higher-level tv drama sound enticing, then the quality of the writing may make this slightly higher-level than others of its type. www.GoodReadingGuide.com
Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews524 followers
June 3, 2016
This marks the third time that I have dipped into the writing pool of Ann Patchett and let me tell you, she does not disappoint!
Dr. Marina Singh embarks on a trip to Brazil in an effort to determine two things: What happened to her colleague, who had died there scant weeks ago and what kind of progress was being made by her former mentor in the development of a new fertility drug that was being funded by her pharmaceutical company. Both of these tasks prove to be most complex and difficult to acheive. Her former mentor's work is at the center of her journey and involves a little known tribe of people whose ability to procreate extends well into their seventies and proves to be as closely linked to their life's rituals as the environment in which they live.
Patchett is such a fine writer that you become an unseen guest on this quest into the Amazon rain forest. Encounters with cannibals, poison arrows, humongous anacondas, pyschedelic fungi and the ever incessant, insect infested jungle. OH MY! This one left me in a State of Wonder.
Profile Image for Maggie.
170 reviews10 followers
August 3, 2011
This novel was just what I've been looking for this summer: a dazzling story, a meaty pile of ethical questions, characters that endure long after the book is over, and prose that gets more beautiful the more you notice it. I didn't love the novel's end; it was a bit too rushed for me, and the sudden pile-on of action left me wanting more of the slow build-up that carried us to the climax. It occurs to me, though, that wanting more of a book is as good a sign as any that it won me over completely. Apparently I have a thing for matriarchal Heart of Darkness scenarios.
Profile Image for Brandice.
824 reviews
January 19, 2021
State of Wonder was such a great story, one I was hooked on right from the beginning.

Marina Singh, a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company, Vogel, in Minnesota, is sent down to the jungle of Brazil to find out what happened in the death of her close co-worker, Anders. He had previously traveled there to check on the progress of a doctor whose research regarding fertility drugs is being funded by Vogel. This doctor, Dr. Swenson, also happens to be one of Marina’s former professors. The details provided via mail regarding Ander’s death are minimal and the tightly knit crew working in Brazil with Dr. Swenson are hardly forthcoming when Marina arrives.

”A truly open mind is a scientist’s greatest asset.”

The descriptions of the Amazon throughout the story are rich and vivid. I liked Marina as a character almost instantly. She was thoughtful and caring, detailed and smart.

I found the story itself to be interesting and also have to admire how Ann Patchett has once again, created an unusual yet believable and captivating book. She has certainly mastered the skill of storytelling. Of the 4 Patchett books I’ve read so far, State of Wonder is easily my second favorite after Commonwealth.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,921 reviews35.4k followers
September 29, 2014
3.5 stars!
I was enthralled with this story. Yet, Its a good thing I'm writing this review 'now' --because the more I think about the details of the 'entire' story iself, my review could get get lower and lower.

I was going to give it 4 stars (some inconsistencies going on in this novel), Yet, this was also a compulsively readable book!

Have you ever read a book that you loved 'while' reading it...yet, the more you started thinking about the absurdity of the storyline....you found yourself laughing? Only to find, more and more 'faults'? T

Plot holes are left hanging, hanging, hanging.... Hm??? Is this author thinking of writing a sequel?

A pharmaceutical company funds a research project in the jungle (Amazon), that goes on for years --yet they don't know WHERE the researcher is --or what progress she is making ---(yet the company pays her bills). Am I the only reader who finds something strange here?

Marina Singh is sent to the Amazon to 'find' her work partner (we are told has died) --to find out where his body is. She does not spend time looking for him? WHY? A little strange too.

A 73 year old 'pregnant' medical doctor has NO PLANS on how she will give birth in the jungle with NO OB --(a complicated birth) --Would I want a doctor like this for 'me'? NO!!! I'm still laughing!

SEX with the wrong person: Shame on Marina Singh (I'm not even talking moral issues), but her a fricken one night stand was out of character! It only takes away from the story.

The Ending was rushed and weak!

And...I still liked this book....(but I gotta tell you --it had tons of problems)....lol but then heck, so do I, and most of my friends. I still like myself and most of my friends with problems, too!

Sometimes we just like to like messy books --why not?/!

Profile Image for Paddy.
333 reviews
July 24, 2011
After all the rave reviews, my expectations were high. But this is no Bel Canto. The infuriatingly hapless heroine does not look ahead to scout out minor(everyone knows to pack some necessities in carry-on luggage, including cell phone)or major consequences of her actions and is locked in past failures and losses (one grows tired of her lost father nightmares and all her screaming). One could also hope for subtler symbolism and metaphors, less stilted dialogue, more skillful writing. For example, the plot mires down in Manaus with minutiae of daily discomforts and too many days of waiting. In contrast, once Marina arrives in the jungle, we would actually like more minutiae about the basics of living there.

Frivolous notes: I heard Patchett on a local radio show (she sounds like someone who is a lot of fun and a good friend)and she described naming two characters for a Nashville couple who bought the opportunity to have Patchett name characters for them at a charity auction. Hence, we get the name Bovender. Patchett described the real-life Bovenders as generous arts patrons and wonderful people. She did not go on to share that another couple in this novel are named for beloved Nashvillians, Nancy and Alan Saturn. Nancy owned one of the country's best craft shops and she and Alan were huge supporters of the arts, including Sinking Creek Film Festival. Patchett is married to a physician, Karl VanDefender, who I'll bet is the son of my daughter's first pediatrician, who had that last name (she was born in Nashville).

It says something that my paragraph about personal details is longer than my paragraph about the novel. Bottom line: I'd love to enjoy a dinner party with Patchett and her husband, but I wanted more from this novel.

Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,633 followers
June 3, 2018
It's been seven years since I first read State of Wonder, and the novel is even more luminous than I remembered. Ann Patchett is one of my veryveryvery favorite writers, and rereading her books is such a joy.

The story follows Dr. Marina Singh, who is tasked with going to the Amazon to learn what happened to a colleague who died while working on a new drug. Singh's journey is both perilous and emotional, and this reader was captivated all over again by her adventure.

If you like beautiful writing, descriptive storytelling and characters who are so real you feel like you would recognize them on the street, you should get yourself an Ann Patchett book. Highly recommended for anyone who loves literary fiction.

Opening Passage
"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. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world."
Profile Image for Bucket.
852 reviews42 followers
March 2, 2012
First, if you haven't read the book and intend to, don't read this review. I spoil just about everything, including the ending, below.

This just didn't work for me. So much bothers me about the way State of Wonder is written and the way the story plays out that I'm overwhelmed by where to begin.

I guess the first thing that bothered me was Dr. Swenson - she's a caricature. Her actions and words are absurd and the way the other characters respond to her is worse. It's not just that I didn't like her - she also made no sense. How would someone like her have ever gained such power over those around her? Why in the world does Mr. Fox wait years and not cut off funding? Even if he wants the drug, she could be laying on the beach down there and he has no idea. It's nonsense.

While Marina was a decently well-rounded character, there was a weird issue towards the beginning of the novel where her big secret is being divulged to the reader. Marina isn't stating it aloud - the reader is basically inside her head - yet there are continual interruptions where she has a conversation or notes something she sees or hears. Of course, this is meant to drag out the suspense, but stylistically it's bizarre. Are we meant to believe that Marina is literally thinking out the words we're reading and keeps getting interrupted? She's not writing or speaking. She's not even narrating, really - who writes that way??

As the book moves forward the sheer volume of convenient plot twists and coincidences made me want to scream. Everything feels forced into moving the plot along. For example: no one would ever put their phone in their suitcase instead of their carry-on and why didn't the other tribe kill Anders if that's basically what they do?

While I was happy to accept the fiction of the story (that there are trees that will let you be fertile into your 70s and beyond) I couldn't accept the coincidences and the tendency of characters to behave completely out of character to further the plot.

The worst part was absolutely the end. Anders and Marina have sex? For real? Our author justifies this by saying that they needed to be intimate after what had happened, and they would have been intimate with their respective partners had those people been available, but they weren't so they just had each other. Really? That is insane. Honestly, the idea that someone has to have sex with someone, doesn't matter who, because a rough experience has ended is offensive. The worst is over - I must have sex! Ridiculous.

There is one thing that is quite good about this book - the writing about the jungle. The description is excellent and made me feel like I was there among the endless green of the trees and the roots and the vines and the creepy crawlies. This, coupled with the decent characterization of Marina, is why I'll give Ann Patchett another try.

Themes: science, research ethics, culture, medicine, fertility, women, relationships, biological clock, Amazon, communication, biology, suspense
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Madeline.
771 reviews47k followers
February 1, 2012
Full disclosure: I fucking hated Heart of Darkness, so when I read that this was sort of a female version of the story, I was wary. But State of Wonder is, fortunately, nothing like Heart of Darkness. For one thing, it's coherent (bazinga!) and although there are thematic similarities, the story stands on its own merits. Conrad can suck it.

The story follows Marina Singh, a researcher at Vogel Pharmaceutical. For years, Vogel has been funding a research project in the Amazon, led by Singh's former med school teacher, the formidable Dr. Swenson. Swenson is researching an isolated tribe, the Lakashi, who have freakishly high fertility rates, in order to create a new fertility drug. The only problem is that Swenson is extremely secretive, to the point where she barely communicates with Vogel and won't reveal the location of her research station in the jungle. When a research who worked with Singh dies while visiting Swenson, Singh is dispatched to the Amazon to find Swenson and the research station, and find out what happened to the man who died.

It takes a good chunk of the book just to find the damn researchers, but once Singh does this it only gets more exciting. In fact, every time the story was in danger of dragging, a new twist or piece of information was revealed, and I was hooked again. All the characters are good (although Marina Singh was, admittedly, my least favorite. shut up about your malaria nightmares already), especially Dr. Swenson. If she doesn't remind you of at least one teacher from your past who intimidated the everloving crap out of you, then I envy your innocence.

Patchett's descriptions of the Amazon are glorious and evocative, and since I've never been to the Amazon her portrayal could be total bullshit for all I know, but it's exceptionally convincing either way:

"At dusk the insects came down in a storm, the hard-shelled and soft-sided, the biting and the stinging, the chirping and the buzzing and droning, every last one unfolded its paper wings and flew with unimaginable velocity into the eyes and mouths and noses of the only three humans they could find. ...When it was fully dark only the misguided insects pelted themselves into the people on board while the rest chose to end their lives against the two bright, hot lights on either side of the boat. The night was filled with the relentless ping of their bodies hitting the glass."

Also there's a scene where two characters catch and kill a fifteen-foot-anaconda, and I can't quote the whole passage because it's like two whole pages, but rest assured that it is awesome and will haunt my snake-fearing dreams for months.

There are issues with the story, of course. Your belief must be firmly and securely suspended to enjoy this book as much as it should be enjoyed. It's true: if a researcher refused to give any contact information or progress updates to the large pharmaceutical company sponsoring her research, her funding would be cut off like that; if a researcher died on said secret location, said pharmaceutical company would launch a full investigation rather than sending one lone researcher to find the lab location and get the details (y'know, because it worked so well the first time); if an isolated tribe had women who could give birth into their seventies the tribe would grow into the millions pretty damn fast and they wouldn't be isolated for long; also, mushrooms are not magic.

But this issues were surprisingly easy to ignore - to the point where I wasn't even aware of them until I read other reviews pointing them out. In fact, considering my experience with Ann Patchett's novels (the other one I've read, Bel Canto has similar leaps in plausibility and realism), I think her books can be enjoyed much more if you think of them as taking place, not in the real world, but in an alternate universe that is similar to ours, but just different enough to allow the stories she tells to happen. Does that make sense? I don't think this story could have taken place in the real world, but I don't think it was supposed to. Heart of Darkness was written as a fever dream by man who had seen way too much evil to be able to properly process it (or was that Apocalypse Now? I don't care), and State of Wonder takes place in a similarly dream-like universe that operates by its own rules, and I loved visiting it.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,780 reviews213 followers
August 26, 2020
Dr. Marina Singh is sent from her home in Minnesota to the jungles of Brazil by her employer, a pharmaceutical company. Her purpose is twofold – to find out what happened to her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman, who has died of fever in the rainforest, and to determine the status of research on a new wonder drug being conducted by her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson. Dr. Swenson has been in the field for many years, but details have not been forthcoming.

This book is a slowly developing multiple mystery written in a literary style. The plot is science-based, including elements of botany, mycology, anthropology, and pharmacology. Dramatic tension is maintained by the obstacles Marina encounters in her journey, and there are quite a few, beginning with the fact that no one knows (or no one is telling) exactly where Dr. Swenson is located.

At forty-two, Dr. Singh still seems to be searching for her proper place in the world. Her journey helps her make decisions about her life, possibly sending it in a more rewarding direction. While it is difficult to like Dr. Swenson, she comes across as believable. She is analytical and pragmatic, sometimes appearing to be cold-hearted. The loveable mute eleven-year-old native boy, Easter, is a wonderful character. I admire the author’s ability to bring him to life without the benefit of dialogue.

This book examines a number of ethical and moral questions. Is it right to withhold information in the interest of the “greater good”? Should outsiders get involved in “helping” indigenous tribes, even at the risk of changing their cultures? What happens when the outsiders leave – are the people better off or worse? Is a new drug worth the possible detriments to an entire tribal society?

New medications and vaccines are constantly under development. Scientists are regularly discovering new species of plants and animals in sparsely populated areas. So, while one may need to suspend disbelief in places, the questions remain valid.

The audio book is beautifully performed by Hope Davis. She gives each character a distinct voice and capably handles a number of global accents. I found this book an engaging character study of a woman that undertakes a journey of profound change, while encouraging the reader to think about larger questions of what constitutes progress in our world.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews504 followers
April 4, 2013
I won’t give too much detail; you need to read this spoiler free. It’s deliciously gloomy and atmospheric, a dark adventure with Hitchcock style suspense. You’d expect a fearless heroine in a novel like this; instead you get Dr. Marina Singh, a neurotic woman with a really bad case of low self-esteem quite content with her life as a pharmacologist. That is till her boss & lover Mr. Fox (exactly the kind of ass insecure women go for) bullies her into taking on the quest of finding a missing colleague, a journey that sends her completely out of her comfort zone deep into a Brazilian rain forest. Dr. Singh is fragile & incompetent, sometimes annoyingly whiny, but she’s also interesting and complex, it’s precisely because she’s so flawed that this works.
Pachett’s description of the Amazon is nothing short of brilliant. There are a couple of unforgettable scenes, one involving a meeting at the opera, another with an anaconda snake. The plot can be a bit of a stretch, forgiven for it's depth. Tackles the ethical ambiguities surrounding medical research and the impact of scientific exploration on native cultures.

Maybe I’m a bit slow but I didn’t see the ending coming, nor did I find it abrupt. My 1st Ann Patchett , I’m really looking forward to reading more by her,Bel Canto next.
Cons: If you’re a “give a book 50 pages to grab me” reader give this a pass. Too slow a build, doesn’t hit its stride until about 1/3 of the way in. Once Marina boards that boat and heads down the Amazon though you’ll be hooked. Also, enough with the rehashing of Marina's nightmare about losing her father. She’s got abandonment issues and a father complex, I got it, really no need to hit me over the head with a 2 by 4. Prepare to do some skimming: 4 ½ stars rounded down to 4

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,018 followers
January 13, 2020
This is my second Ann Patchett novel, after meeting her through The Dutch House not long ago, and I'm so pleased and surprised. I'm pleased because her writing is so technically sound (beautiful narrative, no structural glitches, real characters, complex relationships) that my editor's head goes on vacation and I can simply enjoy like a normal reader. And I'm surprised and delighted by her range: State of Wonder is completely different from the family drama of The Dutch House; it is a great adventure from a Minnesota research lab to the Amazon jungle—vivid, painstakingly researched without any of that screaming "Notice this!" fact-dumping that drives me nuts in some historical novels. Again, great technique and confidence. So I lay back on my couch and thoroughly enjoyed the ride . . . Mostly . . .

Some Thoughts on Peeing & Pooping
I do not know any human being or other animal who does not regularly evacuate, and for most of the middle-aged women I know, doing it before they leave on a trip and finding a place to do it once they arrive at a destination is critical. Many humans have issues around this, but even if they don't, finding the place to relieve oneself is a primal need.

But apparently not for Ann Patchett's intrepid forty-two-year-old research scientist who travels from Minnesota to a hotel in Brazil where she then insists on being an unwelcome passenger on a pontoon into the wilds of the Amazon jungle—a place with no electricity or plumbing where she arrives in a night so dark she cannot see her hand in front of her face; a place where her hostess immediately abandons her to a boy who may be twelve years old, who leads her to a bed in his hut. And never does Patchett mention the most important need: Where does she pee? Where does she poop in the morning? Does she do it in front of the kid? How does she know where to do it? There must be some agreement among the tribe not to do it where the community communes. Tell me! I simply must know.

I understand that most writers leave out going to the bathroom (not me—fair warning if you read my novels), and in most cases it is fine. But in this story, I find the omission to be a bizarre kind of censorship—so much so that I found myself in my own state of wonder.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this adventure and escape from everyday life in the present U.S. of A.
June 8, 2022
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“There was no one clear point of loss. It happened over and over again in a thousand small ways and the only truth there was to learn was that there was no getting used to.”

Boasting her signature writing style State of Wonder is a captivating and thought-provoking read. Ann Patchett’s quiet yet graceful prose drew me in from the very opening page and I found myself enthralled by the calm rhythm of her storytelling. As with many of her other novels, State of Wonder portrays the aftermath of the death one, capturing the shock, grief, and sorrow of those affected by loss.
Patchett’s restrained style belies the complexity of her narrative—from the characters to the story. In spite of the unassuming quality of her prose, there are many moving passages to be found in State of Wonder, nuanced characters (who cannot be easily labelled as being either good or bad), realistic dynamics, and thought-provoking reflections (on death, life, love). The realism created by her unadorned prose is counterpoised by a dreamy ambience, one that gives the narrative an almost palpable sense of melancholy. There is also a sense of the fantastical, but, as with anything Patchett, it is not overt, and its subtlety ...
The story follows Marina Singh, a 42-year-old scientific researcher. Other than an unremarkable affair with Mr. Fox, her company’s C.E.O, she leads a fairly uneventful and sedated life. However, when her colleague and friend Dr. Anders Eckman dies of a fever in a remote part of Brazil, she reluctantly embarks on a journey to the Amazonian jungle to complete his assignment; she has to find her elusive and former medical-school mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who is supposedly creating a new fertility drug that will allow women to bear children well past their seventies.
So we follow Marina deep into the Amazon, on a physical journey that also involves embarking on an emblematic quest: in fact, the repercussion of her friend’s death combined with her ‘task’ raise a series of questions and doubts in someone, who is—from the very start of the novel—in a perpetual state of uncertainty (over a past accident in her medical career, over her future with Dr. Fox).
On top of that, the psychological side effects of the antimalarial medicine Marina must take during her search give her vivid nightmares. While in her sleep Marina faces past fears, when awake she voyages into an unknown future. And it soon becomes apparent that to reach Dr. Annick Swenson, she can no longer rely on past resolutions. More than once she is forced to reassess herself, especially when faced with morally problematic scenarios.
Alongside Marina there are many vibrant and memorable characters, all of whom, regardless of their roles, are incredibly believable: Patchett captures their essence, giving us glimpses into their inner turmoils, their fears and desires, or simply conveying the kind of person they are through the way speak and/or comport themselves. The individuality of her characters is all the more genuine because of their inconsistencies. Each type of relationship that Marina experiences, wherever it is that of a brief exchange with the passenger next to her in her flight to Brazil or with the indigenous child, who is under the care of Dr. Swenson, leaves a mark on her story.

Marina herself is one of the biggest strengths of the novel. And it is precisely because Marina is far from perfect that she feels so genuine, so incredibly real. Her authenticity made it easy to relate and care for her. This just goes to show Pratchett’s brilliant characterization: despite her main character being rather introverted, it was impossible not to connect to her. Although Marina does change in the course of her ‘adventures’, she does so in a subtle, and most importantly, convincing way. Moreover, she is still herself at the end of her journey.

The story carries a sense of the outwordly, of the magical, which is emphasized by both the remote and ‘unfamiliar’ (to marina and me at least) setting and by the artful analogies Pratchett makes with mythological tales. This surrealism is carefully balanced out by the authenticity of her scenarios. Patchett deftly juxtaposes simple concerns against a unique backdrop. Once in the jungle, Marina is forced to confront in person the ethics of Dr. Swenson’s studies, showing that in spite of the woman’s claims, her presence is interfering with the Lakashi, or that under the flag of ‘for the greater good’ other doctors there will readily resort to unethical practices. Marina too sees the Lakashi as ‘other’, and struggles to reconcile herself with their customs and ways of living.
Patchett’s prose is exquisite, both for its clarity and for its ability to transport me alongside Marina on her journey. By honing in on those ordinary moments and interactions, not only did Marina’s story become all the more vivid but we also come to realise how often these ‘small’ everyday instances can and will affect us.
The slow but affecting story, the atmospheric and evocative writing, the author’s careful descriptions and observation make State of Wonder an enthralling tale in which I will gladly lose myself again into.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews501 followers
September 1, 2015
From the official blurb:
"Award-winning "New York Times"-bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant) returns with a provocative novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest--a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity."

A little bit of adventure, a whole lot of human intrigue, a slow-moving drama playing itself out on the metaphorical fine line between jungle and civilization; Minnesota acting as the proscenium of the Amazonian main stage, where any human lives can be mastigated in an instance by other humans, and it's not always the locals setting the stage for the dramatic, musical and emotional elements in this opera of the wild ...

Medical research, moral highs and lows, professional envy, and riches hidden away in the jungle, are the main elements in this story.

Main characters
Dr. Annick Swenson
Dr. Marina Singh
Dr. Anders Eckman
Jackie and Barbara Bovender
Easter - little boy
Milton - the chaufeur
Rodrigi - shopkeeper

I could not connect with anyone in the story. Did not identify with anyone, although I found them interesting characters. Picture perfect in their different roles. Nothing surprising there. Nevertheless, the easy writing style kept me reading and enjoying the experience. It was a truly relaxing and interesting read. Nothing new. But good anyway. The book does not aim to be an emotional spiderweb of entanglement and destruction. Quite the contrary. It's a feel-good memory with a feel-good ending. I needed it.
Profile Image for Uomo di Speranza.
17 reviews10 followers
July 12, 2013
When everyone was in about second grade, their teacher taught them about how each butterfly was once an entirely alternative being called a caterpillar. She also must have thrown in the term "cocoon" while you were thinking about how mean the cockney in front of you was for stealing your colorful eraser. Nevertheless, most everyone conceived the concept that there were two inseparable stages to a butterfly's life, two states completely indistinguishable from one another. Being the conceited little priss that I was, my brain never thought this knowledge would be applicable to life in the future. And I was only to be proved wrong years later by a book my very eyes devoured.

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett describes the experiences of pharmacologist Marina Singh when getting to and living in the Amazon rain forest. After a colleague of Marina's named Anders Eckman dies there, Marina is sent by her boss and lover, Jim Fox, to both discover the exact cause of Eckman's death and oversee the progress of brilliant Dr. Annick Swenson, who is studying the indigenous Lakashi people so that a drug permitting lifelong fertility in females can be forged. Singh's determination to discover how her colleague perished is intensified by a heart-wrenching plea from Karen Eckman, Anders' widow who is left with three mourning boys while she is still miserable herself, for information about the death. One found phenomenon unexpectedly turns out to be an alternative Dr. Marina Singh-the scant resources and dire situations that the Amazon present cause our main character to perform previously unthinkable actions. When an anaconda threatens to strangle her ever-lovable companion, a deaf boy named Easter, Marina suddenly finds enough courage to murder the great snake with a machete. Marina was once Dr. Swenson's gynecology student, but switched her major to pharmacology after performing a hasty cesarean (something I am so glad we didn't have to complete a lab about in biology) that blinded the baby she was delivering. When a Lakashi woman is in desperate need of a cesarean because her infant is (for lack of a better word) stuck, Marina finds herself forced by an incapable Dr. Swenson to actually conduct the necessitated procedure on a wooden floor with unsterilized equipment and shoehorns to hold open the uterus. When Dr. Fox actually comes into the Amazon to check on her, Marina doesn't tell him the imperative secret every doctor there is incubating: that Fox's investment is being used for, along with that fertility drug, the development of a malaria vaccine from which he will not fiscally benefit. Then it is discovered that Anders is really alive, which leads to Marina having sex with her former colleague on small cot.

The Marina Singh who boarded that plane bound for the Amazon would never have executed any of the aforementioned actions. She loved Dr. Fox and therefore would never have desired to hurt his well-being. Karen Eckman was a morbid woman who reached out to Dr. Singh in a time of need, not a person whose spouse she would desire as a sexual partner. The bleak lab at Vogel Pharmaceutical company was her home, a place where discomforts meant tedious faculty meetings, not watching an anaconda strangle the life out of her friend. She had palpably turned into a butterfly somewhere along the way...

All humans experience dramatic change-in-state's throughout their lives. It is imperative that after these changes transpire, we do not completely revert back to our previous state. What comes to the forefront of my mind when I think of this concept is the drastic change from childhood to adulthood-would I witness Barney singing on my television every twenty-four hours nowadays? Would I hold on to my parent's hand every time I cross the street now that I am a teenager? The reason behind this prohibition is that our previous states cannot support us as we attempt to fulfill our current potential for success. As arrogant a priss I was, there is no way I would be writing this post at the present time if I was yet to learn long division.

Dr. Singh eventually returns to her Minnesota hometown with Anders and fondly watches her colleague's reunion with his family. It is then that Ms. Patchett composes an immensely vague sentence to culminate her narrative: "And Marina brought him back, and without a thought that anyone should see her, she told the driver to go on.(page 353)" I interpret this to mean that Marina brings the spirit of Anders and therefore the Amazon (the two are intertwined since she knows how that Amazonian endeavor started and ended because of him) back to her and uses them in forging her decision to once more be at the side of Dr. Swenson, who both predicted Marina's return and desired that Singh stay to work on the project with her. It is in the Amazon, not in Minnesota, that the new Marina can fulfill her potential to help develop the fertility drug and malaria vaccine. I cannot study records of a 1920s newspaper for my novel tomorrow if I spend all of the day at a day-care. Uomo di Speranza has switched from being raised by others to raising himself.

So, my dear friends, insure that you do not crawl on the ground once you have turned from caterpillar to butterfly. You cannot be squashed by an unsuspecting foot if you are flying.
Profile Image for Lorna.
653 reviews352 followers
July 12, 2021
State of Wonder by master storyteller, Ann Patchett, was an exciting book taking place in Brazil where a United States pharmaceutical company has sent several of their physicians involved in research in the Amazon rainforest. This was a riveting story that brings to the fore a lot of moral dilemas as well our deep and profound beliefs. We follow Dr. Marina Singh sent to the Amazon after her officemate and close colleague and friend of seven years has died, leaving behind his wife and three sons in Minnesota. What transpires as Marina travels to the Amazon is a very compelling story. What she finds and learns leads us all on a literary adventure making this book impossible to put down.

"The point of an evening at Teatro Amazonas was not so much to see an opera house. They had tickets for Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, but only because there had to be tickets for something. The building itself was the performance, the two long marble staircases curving up in front, the high blue walls piped with crisp white embellishments, the great tiled dome that must have been torn down from a Russian palace by a monstrous storm and blown all the way to South America, or so a tourist had told Marina one morning when she stopped to take a picture of it with her phone. There was no real explanation for how such a building was conceived in such a place."

"Beyond the spectrum of darkness she saw the bright stars scattered across the table of the night sky and felt as if she had never seen such things as stars before. She did not know enough numbers to count them, and even if she did, the stars could not be separated one from the other, the whole was so much greater than the sum of its parts. She saw the textbook of constellations, the heros of mythology posing on fields of ink. She could see the milkiness in everything now, the way the sky was spread over with light."
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book462 followers
October 9, 2018
Sometimes you can really enjoy a book while you are reading it, then when you are completely done and reflect for a few minutes realize it is not just improbable, but impossible. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called drama "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment” and Patchett knew what he was talking about, she is able to make you do that completely.

Somewhere in the wilds of Brazil is Dr. Annick Swenson, researching a fertility drug and refusing to tell even the head of the drug company who is bankrolling her where she is. A headquarters employee is sent to find her and check on Swenson’s research progress and dies in the jungle...so, another employee, Dr. Marina Singh, is sent to find out what happened to him and to finish his job. By the time Marina arrives in Brazil, I am having flashbacks to Heart of Darkness; by the time she makes her way into the jungle, I am having flashbacks to Medicine Man.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending. For once, I would have liked the obvious ending to win out. I immediately started writing the next scene in my mind when the book came to its end, and that scene would make Swenson prescient.

I like Patchett. I find her a nice break when I just want a good story that doesn’t require too much of a commitment on my part. I’m glad to feel that way, because I have both Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars still waiting in line.
Profile Image for Celeste Ng.
Author 14 books86.3k followers
September 11, 2013
From the description I wasn't sure this would be my kind of book--a book about drug company scientists researching a new drug in the Amazon? But I adore Ann Patchett, so I gave it a try. I'm so glad I did. As with BEL CANTO (my favorite of Patchett's books), it's flawlessly written, page-turning, and heartbreaking. It introduced me to one of the best child characters I've ever met in a book, Easter. And it is not so much "about" the research of the new drug in the Amazon as much as it is about the ramifications of that drug and that research, and the scientists themselves, their own histories of love and loss. I should have known better than to doubt.
Profile Image for Jenn.
135 reviews9 followers
June 14, 2011
This book has made me despair for the American publishing industry in a way I hadn't, yet. Why despair? Because it is only the constant pressure to produce, to publish, that would make a company like HarperCollins and a writer with the ability of Ann Patchett push forward this work, which is at best uneven and at worst something that I would expect to emerge from a blinded-by-friendship writer's group. Does that seem harsh? If it is, it's because I expect -- perhaps unfairly -- more of Patchett than this book has offered.

In State of Wonder, the main character, Marina Singh, is a Minnesotan doctor whose office/lab-mate, Anders Eckman, has died in the Amazonian jungle of Brazil while on assignment for the pharmaceutical company for which they both work. Marina's boss/lover, Mr. Fox, and Eckman's widow, Karen, pressure her to go looking for his remains and the full story of his death. Mr. Fox also wants Marina to finish Eckman's assignment: track down the rogue researcher that the company is funding in the jungle, find out how her fertility project/miracle pill is progressing, and report back.

The loveliest scenes in the book happen in Minnesota, where Marina must break the horrible news to Mrs. Eckman and come to her own sad peace with his death. These scenes also offer us some flashbacks about the character that provide further reason for her reluctance to go to the jungle: she knows the rogue physician who's out there, Dr. Annick Swenson, as she was once Swenson's student. A negative experience under Swenson's supervision led to Marina's abrupt shift into pharmacology, away from obstetrics/gynecology, and she's not thrilled to have to face the abandoned mentor again. But go she does, because, as the author is careful to tell us (though not show us), she is a sensible woman who follows and often exceeds directions and orders.

It is in Brazil that both the book and its main character lose their ways. There was never much hope for Marina. She is forced to live out the title for the length of the book, constantly in a "state of wonder" that makes her the main engine for silly questions. Though we are meant to believe that she is an intelligent woman of some poise, she is constantly flummoxed, bewildered, exhausted, angry, unreasonable, or just plain weird. It is absolutely realistic to believe that a woman accustomed to Minnesotan living would be out of her depth, immediately, in the Brazilian jungle, but it is tiring to see that she hardly learns from any experience she has. Her extraordinarily commanding and, initially, unsympathetic mentor/hero/objective, Dr. Swenson, is built to point out exactly how unreasonable Marina is acting at every turn -- and while she's often so vocally odious that a reader does not want to side with her, she's also, as the book tells us again and again, right.

Ann Patchett's other books have done well at placing "normal" characters into extraordinary circumstances and then showing the internal and external effects. The Patron Saint of Liars was a book that made me believe in the utility of the happy ending again. The Magician's Assistant played beautifully within a created (but well-researched) world of sleight-of-hand, love, and difficulty; the award-winning Bel Canto was bolder in its imagination, and bolder in its reward. That book's ending was almost criminally neat, in some ways, but it was also proof that Patchett knew she would often have to kill her darling characters to create a sense of consequence similar to reality.

In this book, as in her last, Patchett's ability to imagine a difficult situation is still firmly in place, firmly wonderful, but her reliance on created coincidence makes the books much more difficult to believe. In Run, a woman just happens to be hit by a car; a boy just happens to see it occur; a family just happens to recognize the significance. In this book, the coincidences are too great to list, but by the time a boat just happens to take a wrong turn down precisely the right river and see the right face at the right time, there's nothing left that's impossible in this world. It is revealed to be completely one of imagination, completely unreal, and though the author lands a few heavy blows at the end to show that it's not a world without consequences, it's all too over-created for a reader to completely believe or care that anyone here could be hurt. We are meant to read this book in a constant state of wonder, perhaps, but to do so requires a suspension of disbelief that I cannot lend Patchett by the end.
Profile Image for Reddwhine.
124 reviews3 followers
July 9, 2017
The second time around for this one. Ironically this time it was a book club selection that I chose. I was curious whether I would think it was as horrible the second time around. I'm a glutton for punishment, what can I say? Here is my review combined with my previous review...and for the record, nothing has changed.

Maybe Patchett and I just don't speak the same English. I disliked Bel Canto intensely but the description of State of Wonder made it seem rather intriguing and so I decided that maybe Bel Canto was a fluke. Wrong! I forced myself to finish this book only because the premise was really interesting and I kept hoping that as I got further into the book it would do something...anything to hold my interest.

Marina Singh is a researcher for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota who has "daddy issues". She is sent deep into the Amazon to find out what happened to her research partner who is dead. He isn't dead but who cares. She is also tasked with lighting a fire under the head researcher Dr. Swenson who at the age of 73 is pregnant and has been dragging her feet for years while Mr. Fox continues to pay for her "research" without any results whatsoever. She is an enigmatic control freak and very unpleasant. Swenson and crew are investigating a new fertility drug (obviously since the old biddy is preggo) that makes women fertile until the end of their lives. Why a woman would want to be fertile until the end of her life is a mystery but whatever, it's in the plot. Seems Swenson is one of the victims....er success stories. The cast of characters for this book is a collection of really quirky individuals with not a single one the least bit appealing or likeable. Marina was so flat, her relationship with Mr. Fox so unrealistic and the whole premise of the book so contrived that I found myself rolling my eyes more and more as I progressed through the book. Nevermind Easter and the Anaconda, ugh! After finishing State of Wonder, I was in a state of wonder myself realizing that I'd actually read this entire horrible book TWICE without setting it on fire. I just shook my head at the waste of paper and my time. The only good thing is that it was a library book so I didn't waste my money on this one.

One thing for sure, no more Patchett for me.

Profile Image for Sue.
1,228 reviews527 followers
February 21, 2012
Patchett brings the Amazon to life in this novel. It's a smothering, overwhelmingly hot, green, creature-filled jungle approachable by waters infested with beings that can kill humans in myriad ways. Yet it's also home to tribes of natives who live with and from the jungle. There are fantastic birds and scary insects and snakes. And there may be a cure for infertility. That is the beginning of the story and the basis on which the protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, travels to Brazil to track what happened to a co-worker who also went there seeking answers for their employer, a pharmaceutical company.

Once Marina reaches Brazil, life changes, all is reduced to managing within the confines of the weather. Once she finds Dr Swenson, head of the field study, life becomes the weather, the jungle, the science and the natives place in it all.

This is my first foray into Patchett's works. I really need to read more. I was fully drawn in to the characters, the descriptions, the emotions. I even found moments of sympathy for that self-involved scientist, Annick Swenson toward the end as she revealed more of her inner, less steely self. There is too much to say. Just read the book.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Julie N.
807 reviews25 followers
July 6, 2011
My all-encompassing love for Ann Patchett is not a secret. She is my absolute favorite living author and I own every single one of her books. (Side note: remember that time she came to Chattanooga and I couldn't afford to go to the signing - still bitter about that). I've been anxiously waiting on the release State of Wonder for a while now, so when TLC gave me the opportunity to review, you know I was all over it. The day it came in the mail I called Luke at work because I was so excited. And when I started it last week he told me he couldn't believe I had waited three whole weeks to read it. But I wanted to draw out the anticipation as long as I could - and it was SO worth it. The complexity of the plot, the themes, and the characters is way to difficult to describe in detail without giving things away, so I'll just summarize by saying: the Amazon, a miracle fertility drug, anacondas, cannibals, and the mystery surrounding a man's death. Read the full publisher's description here for more details. The book is fascinating and engrossing and below I will tell you all of the reasons why you ought to go find a copy of this book and start reading now.

This novel is no Bel Canto. And by that I don't mean that it isn't as good as Bel Canto - I mean it is so completely different from that novel and everything else that the author has written that the two defy comparison. It's one of Patchett's strengths, I think, that she can craft a beautiful story that is so completely different from everything else she's written. Another thing that I loved about this book in particular, and most of her other books, is that it's not about anything. I mean, it has a plot, and it's obviously got a compelling story, but it's not an issue book. It's not a book about being a woman, or a book about falling in love, or a book about a timely topic. Even though a good portion of the story centers around the development of this miracle fertility drug, the book isn't making a statement about fertility treatments or addressing the current state of pharmaceuticla companies - she's just telling a beautiful, unique story. And, yes, questions of morality and ethics are raised, but not in the way they are in so many "issues' books.

Patchett also does an excellent job, as always, with setting. Like Bel Canto the book is set in South America, but that is where the similarities end. The descriptions of the insects, the heat, the trees, the suffocating atmosphere are integral to the story and are conveyed beautifully. I would go as far as to say that the jungle itself is a character in the book and the way Patchett weaves it into every part of the story is engrossing.

I have absolutely zero complaints about the writing. Beautiful, moving, engrossing, perfect.

Entertainment Value
Again, not a single complaint. I have to admit that I am not typically one to grab up literary fiction. I think most of the time literary fiction sounds like it's trying to be literary and winds up being boring. It's fashionable to write books about people who are bored with life, which can make for very boring reading. This is an exception to the rule. Not only is the writing amazing, but the book as a whole is engrossing. From the first page I was committed to finding out what would happen to the characters.

The characters themselves are believable and largely sympathetic. I love when authors are able to make unlikable characters sympathetic. It's so much closer to real life. People do bad things and make bad decisions, but they also have redeeming characteristics. In reality people are rarely completely wicked or completely noble and pure, and Patchett's characters follow reality.

Honestly, I just can't recommend this one highly enough. It hasn't taken the place of Bel Canto as my favorite Patchett book, but it has come in as a very very close second. And really it's hard to compare the two at all because they are such very different books. I rarely recommend a book to every reader. I usually give some stipulation ("You'll love this if you're a fan of YA" or "this one is for people who are interested in romance"), but I truly think anyone and everyone can and should read this one. Seriously. If you can read what I'm typing right now, there is no reason I can think of that you wouldn't love State of Wonder.

Major, major thanks to Trish at TLC for letting me in on this tour! For all of the tour information and to see other readers' opinions, check out the tour page here.
Profile Image for JoAnne Pulcino.
663 reviews58 followers
June 25, 2011
Anne Patchett
This marvelous atmospheric and multi layered novel takes place in the Amazon jungle where an emissary from a pharmaceutical company dies under mysterious circumstances at a research facility.
Dr. Marina Singh is sent to find the remains and effects, but must first locate the famous and reclusive gynecologist, Dr. Swenson who is in charge of the research. Dr. Swenson is researching the women of a local tribe who can conceive well past middle age, and other secret remedies. She and her research are totally off limits except to a chosen few, just she and her research team.
Ms. Patchett’s true genius is her ability to write about situations that truly stretch incredibility but you end up believing every word, and even cheering. Very few authors can achieve this kind of rapport with their readers.
This is a vivid and emotional trip taking you on a journey so well written you are able to experience it through the eyes of characters you won’t soon forget. The unforgettable native boy, Easter will touch your heart, and linger in your thoughts long after you finish the book.
Highly Recommended
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