Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

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. ~ Opening to State of Wonder.




State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Harper Collins, 2011
Fiction; 353 pgs

There are many places I would like to travel and to experience.  I would likely not last long in the middle of the rain forest on the border of the Amazon.  So, instead, I content myself to visiting such places in books.

 From the Publisher: 
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.  
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. State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy. 
Upon receiving word that her research partner has died of fever in a rain forest in Brazil, Marina sets off to find out more about his death  at the request of her partner's wife, as well as to inquire about Dr. Swenson's drawn out work on a mysterious fertility drug at the behest of her employer and lover, Mr. Fox.  Marina has mixed feelings about going, but go she does.  She meets up with the eccentric Bovenders whose job it is to keep people away from Dr. Swenson, and Milton, the very resourceful chauffeur.

Dr. Annick Swenson, 73 years old, has spent decades studying the Lakashi people and conducting her research alongside a team of doctors, each with their own purpose.  She is not an easy person to get close to, much less like.  She is gruff in manner and spends more time pontificating than she does listening.  As you can guess, I am not her biggest fan.  Even so, Marina, has always admired Dr. Swenson and even longed to follow in her footsteps at one time, having once studied under her.

Marina is an interesting character.  As smart and thoughtful as she appears, she sometimes makes rash decisions, not all of which make sense.  The more I got to know her, the more I accepted this as her character flaw--and in some ways, I could understand her choices.  There was also a distance about her, and yet it was obvious she really cares about people.  Marina changed her medical focus early in her schooling after a tragic mishap that has haunted her ever since.  Dr. Swenson and the Amazon force Marina to face her past.  Her time in the rain forest is also a time of soul searching.  She faces her fears and relies on strengths she did not know she had.

There are secrets and lies, and several mysteries solved.  Difficult choices are made.  You really get a feel for the native people and how fragile their lifestyle and environment are, given the encroaching civilization.  Not to mention the questions raised in how they are treated by the researchers.  There are also other ethical questions involving the way pharmaceutical companies set their priorities. State of Wonder is both a heartbreaking and inspiring novel.

When I first began reading State of Wonder it did not seem like a book I would love.  Somewhere along the line, I realized how caught up in the story I was, how invested in the characters.  I adore Easter, the deaf boy taken in my Annick Swenson and later by Marina.  Ann Patchett had transported me to the rain forest just as she had Marina.  I wanted to know more. I wanted to experience more.

I do wish the author had provided more insight into Marina than she did, but that very well could be my lack of wanting to let go of the character and the world Ann Patchett has created.  When I finished the book, tears in my eyes, I so much wanted more.  The ending was perfect in so many ways, but I didn't want the book to end.  I wanted to spend more time with the Lakashi and with Marina.

I am grateful to Carrie of the Books and Movies and her "I've Always Meant to Read That Book!" Challenge for spurring me to read State of Wonder now.  It has been on my shelf forever, and her challenge motivated me to pick it up and give it a try.  This is my first Ann Patchett novel, but it definitely will not be my last.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Ann Patchett and her books on the author's website.

Source: I purchased both a print and e-copy of State of Wonder for my own reading pleasure.
  

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

36 comments:

  1. I was surprised by how involved I got in this book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marg - I was too! I like it when books take me by surprise like that.

      Delete
  2. Glad u enjoyed this one as much as me. I'd love to read it again with a discussion group.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane - I think this would make a great one for discussion!

      Delete
  3. "When I first began reading State of Wonder it did not seem like a book I would love. Somewhere along the line, I realized how caught up in the story I was, how invested in the characters."
    That's exactly how I felt about the book. I read it because I already loved the author's work, but I didn't think I'd like it. A year later and I'm still thinking about the characters. You should read Bel Canto next. Or if you want to try her nonfiction, Truth and Beauty is excellent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa - It seems to have had that affect on many of us. I definitely want to read Bel Canto. I actually thought that would be my first Ann Patchett book, but Carrie's reading it now spurred me to read State of Wonder instead.

      Delete
  4. I liked this book but didn't like it as much as others have. I felt like the characters weren't true to themselves at the end of the story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - I didn't feel that way--except for maybe Anders. He didn't quite meet the image I had created of him in my head before--well, you know. Spoilers and all that. :-)

      Delete
  5. Great review Wendy. I like your comment about not lasting long in the rain forest. True!

    I looked up my review from 1 1/2 years ago: http://raidergirl3-anadventureinreading.blogspot.ca/2012/07/book-state-of-wonder-by-ann-patchett.html#idc-container

    Actually similar comments to yours. The distance from the characters, but ultimately, an absorbing read. I think I was annoyed by Swenson more than you though!
    If you want another science based, well written, book, try Intuition by Allegra Goodman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth - And yet a part of me would love to see the rain forest in person, you know?

      Swenson got on my nerves quite a bit, actually. She was very annoying. LOL

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll for Goodman's book.

      Delete
    2. It was Michelle (3M) who recommended Intuition. Have you had any contact with her at all? I wonder about her, and how she is.

      Delete
  6. I love the opening quote. Bel Canto has remained a favorite, and it sounds as if I might really enjoy State of Wonder!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenclair - I hope to read Bel Canto someday soon. I've always been intrigued by the premise in that one!

      Delete
  7. Sounds like a good read, I really like that it deals with the encroaching civilization.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy - Patchett takes on the subject more subtly than not, but the concern is definitely there.

      Delete
  8. Sounds really interesting. I haven't read any Ann Patchett but really feel like I should. This sounds like it may be a good one to start with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - She's one of those authors I've had on my must read list forever.

      Delete
  9. I'm so glad you read along with me! My review goes up on the last day of the month, and I really enjoyed it, too. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie - Me too! Thank you for the little push to finally read one of Patchett's books! I would have waited to post my review on Monday too, but I have a tour spot that day. I'll definitely be dropping in for the discussion though. :-)

      Delete
  10. Bel Canto did that to me... Not being into it at first, but realizing somewhere along the way I has been unknowingly invested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. April - Sometimes those types of books turn out to be the best, don't they? I look forward to reading Bel Canto.

      Delete
  11. It's been on my shelf forever too and I'm so far behind I missed the read along. Glad that you liked it - that bodes well for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stacy - I hope you do get a chance to read it and like it as much as I did.

      Delete
  12. So many things to think about in this book, aren't there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa - Yes! It would be a great book club pick. I am glad I was able to read it along side Carrie.

      Delete
  13. Sounds like a great read! I'm glad you enjoyed it, Wendy!

    ReplyDelete
  14. State of Wonder sounds like a must read then. Unique setting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Naida - It's not a setting I read about a lot. I really enjoyed it.

      Delete
  15. Yeah I liked State of Wonder and want to read her book Bel Canto someday. It's good you got that book read & off your shelf! Here are my thoughts on it at http://www.thecuecard.com/node/691

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sandra - There is a sense of relief in completing one of my long standing TBR books and moving it over to the "read" shelf. :-) Thanks for the link to your review.

      Delete
  16. This sounds interesting, and I do like the unusual setting. I will give her a try, as I haven't read anything by her yet. Is it me, or are her books with the science setting a little like Barbara Kingsolver's books? I have enjoyed some of Kingsolver's books, really liking two of them. Science (usually the main character is some kind of scientist or naturalist) figures in many of her novels also, and is an aspect I really enjoy finding in novels.

    I liked Raidergirl's suggestion of Intuition, too, above in the comments, so I'm going to look for that one as well! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan - I have never read anything by Kingsolver (although I tried to read The Poisonwood Bible several times to no avail) so can't say I know how they compare to Patchett's.

      Delete
  17. I don't think I'd last in the Amazon either! :) Great review, Wendy. I've read her book Bel Canto which I had some mixed feelings about so I'd be curious to hear what you thought of that one if you decide to give it a go.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.