Ann Patchett takes the ingredients for a high adventure story with strong moral underpinnings and puts them together with women in the lead roles to create a story that transports you away from the mundane world without allowing you to escape the larger questions of ethics and morality.

The story is set in the steamy Amazon basin, but instead of Indiana Jones hacking his way through the jungle in search of ancient treasure, we have Marina Singh a medical doctor turned pharmacologist as the reluctant heroine whose Minnesota-based employer, the Vogul Company, sends her into the unknown on a double-pronged mission. Singh is charged with tracking down the elusive and self-righteous Annick Swenson, her former medical school professor, who is developing a valuable new drug for the firm, as well as with discovering the truth behind the reported death of fellow research scientist Anders Eckman, who preceded her on the search for Dr. Swenson.

The book’s cast of colorful characters includes Milton, a cross between a chauffeur, guide and personal Jeeves; the deaf boy Easter, rumored to be from a cannibalistic tribe; the gad-about Bovenders, a young Australian couple who go the way the going is easiest; and, the late Martin Rapp, a world renowned botanist who devoted his life to researching mushrooms in the Amazon and who also happened to be Swenson’s mentor and lover.

The book boasts an exotic locale, troubled protagonist, elusive goal and a series of life threatening obstacles, including a jaw-snapping anaconda, as well as major inconveniences, like a lost cell phone that along with the terrain contributes to the isolated setting. Read in the summer, State of Wonder makes a great beach book and in the winter a perfect antidote to cold and snow.

4 thoughts on “State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

  1. Hi Pat,

    Your site looks great, very polished! (I too am on WP at http://www.wellcraftedtoo.wordpress.com, but have let my primary blog–the other is a photo blog I set up mostly for family to enjoy–lapse somewhat).

    You and I differ considerably on this novel. I had so much trouble with this novel that I didn’t finish it.

    Here’s a link to my review of State of Wonder (ah, the joys of social media!) on Goodreads. Btw, I am enjoying Goodreads. It’d be fun if you joined me there (and you could link back to your site).


    I look forward to reading more of your reviews.

    Pam Martin

  2. Hi Pat,

    Wow, I can see the confusion here.

    Clicking on my WP link does indeed take one to my WP blog, as it should.

    But the Goodreads link is another matter. If I, not you, are signed in to GR clicking on the link takes you to my review. If I’m not signed in, it takes you to all the reviews of Patchett’s novel…And I don’t think there is a search function there to find a particular reviewer.

    Strange to say, but I don’t think you can access my review on GR without being a member of it. I just tried to (without signing in) and I could not.

    Sorry for all the confusion!

    Btw, it’d be fun if you joined me on GR…

    Here’s my review of the novel (cut and paste):

    “Okay, I’m currently reading this, and really only now just getting into it, and am already stumbling (and have heard such strong reviews of Patchett for so long, and do want to like this novel!).

    Here’s my confusion at this point–I’m at the very start, when Marina has decided to take off for Brazil, and is again experiencing nightmares on the malaria drugs…I don’t understand why, with a sudden, unexpected, unexplained, and unverified death of a valued worker and colleague, the characters–certainly the deceased’s spouse and family–are not seeking out official help. Brazil is a huge, diverse, and challenging country in many respects, but the events of the novel, after all, are taking place in modern times, and Brazil is not without resources! Does no one go to any authorities to seek help with finding this missing, perhaps dead, man? The US Embassy would be where I would run, not walk!

    Now perhaps the failure on the part, so far, of any character to do this will be explained, or rectified. But honestly, I am already questioning the characters in a manner that takes me ‘out of’ the world of the book, and reminds me that it is just a book–not what one wants to feel in a novel. I’m feeling like I am not in ‘good hands’, and to read a novel of this length, I do indeed need to feel in very good hands! After all, in the hands of a deeply skilled writer, a reader will believe anything–that Middle Earth exists and gold rings corrupt, that ancient secret gardens lie buried, forgotten, behind old stone walls, that an old, sea faring man will chase, to his death, a white whale…

    In counterpoint, recently read Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, which also concerns missing Americans in an exotic locale (Burma). While a good deal of Tan’s novel did strain credulity, I did like her diligent attempts–successful, I thought–to weave in realistic details concerning how persons missing overseas are handled today.”

  3. Reading and enjoying often depends on one’s frame of mind and approach — a book that appeals one day might not another for reasons that often are not discernible. I suspect that the secret to reading a book like this and embracing the basic premise is simple: willing suspension of disbelief. It’s a lesson I learned watching one of the Indie films with my late husband…that’s absurd, I said, about one thing or another and he simply looked at me and spoke those four words. Once I got over my logical mindset, the magic of the story took over. I read State of Wonder during a streak of blazing weather and perhaps because of that was able to surrender to the notion that in the exotic locale of the Amazon jungle anything is possible.

    Seek out authorities, go to the American Embassy, yes of course. But perhaps the corporation already did that or perhaps because of the secrecy shrouding the research, corporate officials are reluctant to draw attention to the matter; what’s the bottom line? Profits and shareholder satisfaction. As for the missing man’s wife? She may innocently believe all that could be done has been done or she may be so immersed in grief she is unable to think clearly. It happens.

  4. Yes, agree, suspending belief is what allows us to enter any work of fiction–after all, it’s all fiction, whether ‘realistic’ or sci-fi, or whatever…But I found that with Patchett I had a lot of trouble doing that. Somehow, the story just didn’t hold together for me…

    What I found odd about the novel wasn’t that I couldn’t ‘buy into it’–after all, not all stories ‘work’ for any given reader–but that this particular book had received such acclaim. So I kept wondering what’s wrong with me, why don’t I like this book?

    It’s even odder when I recall that I just recommended (on Facebook) Murakami’s wonderful collection of shorts, “The Elephant Vanishes”. With a title like that, you just know that at least one story in the collection does indeed involve an elephant and, yes, it vanishes.

    And every time I read the story (I’ve read it about three or four times!), I ‘believe’ the ending!

    So, what gives?

    What is it about Middle Earth and how it’s described, that makes me believe every detail in it, but I don’t believe in, couldn’t ‘get into’ Patchett’s world?

    I think the answer lies in, as Fred might say at OCWW, detail. That no matter what, or where, or how realistic, or unrealistic, the world is that we are attempting to create in the minds of our readers, we must make it as seamless as possible. And detail–the right ones, at the right moments–do that.

    Somehow, Patchett’s world felt contrived to me, and one detail–missing details, really–that I got stuck on were the underlying premises of the botanist’s disappearance. I just couldn’t believe that it would have been responded to in that manner, and so the entire story/world of the story began to unravel for me…

    Thanks for replying; thinking more about these types of issues is a good workout and prep for writing!

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