Ann Patchett has dazzled readers with her award-winning books, including The Magician’s Assistant and the New York Times bestselling Bel Canto. Now she raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina’s assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher’s expectations.
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.
If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’re stoked to have a new book by her to read! If you’re not an Ann Patchett fan, GET THEE TO A BOOKSTORE because you will be a convert. If you come back to me and confess your sins (not reading Ann Patchett), I will absolve you.
State of Wonder is the fourth Patchett book I’ve read. With Bel Canto and State of Wonder, one could say the setting and premise is unbelievable. Speaking specifically to State of Wonder, I found the setting plausible, though not a situation I’d ever find myself. But I don’t read Patchett for how mundane or commonplace her settings are. I read her for the questions she poses, for the relationships she so deftly develops, and for the truths I find in her books.
One quote that I will never forget:
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 just keeps pulling it and pulling it.
I was able to see Ann Patchett at a literary luncheon. I’m not quite sure I conveyed the breadth and depth of my love for her. I didn’t, however, tell her I would have her babies (which I would) because while she fawned over Ethan (which was very nice), she mentioned in her talk that she doesn’t want children. Darn. That was how I was going to profess my love for her.
At the literary luncheon, Patchett read a passage from State of Wonder that made me almost run screaming from the room because the tension in the scene was so high. While on a boat, one of the characters in the book reaches in to the water, grabs an anaconda, and pulls it on to the boat. To see who does and doesn’t die, you’ll have to read the book. But suffice it to say that it was all I could do to stand the suspense while she read the scene aloud.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars