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State of Wonder Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself. --Jessica Schein



Amazon Exclusive: Elizabeth Gilbert Interviews Ann Patchett

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection Pilgrims—a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ.

Elizabeth Gilbert: As your close personal friend, I happen to know that you traveled to the Amazon to conduct research for this novel, and that you sort of hated the Amazon--can you share a little about that?

Ann Patchett: I absolutely loved the Amazon for four days. It was gorgeous and unfamiliar and deeply fascinating. Unfortunately, I stayed there for ten days. There are a lot of insects in the Amazon, a lot of mud, surprisingly few vegetables, too many snakes. You can’t go anywhere by yourself, which makes sense if you don’t know the terrain, but I enjoy going places by myself. I can see how great it would be for a very short visit, and how great it would be if you lived there and had figured out what was and wasn’t going to kill you, but the interim length of time isn’t great.

EG: Didn't I hear that you have a sort of magical story about a friend who is also a writer, who was also once going to write a book about the Amazon? Can you share this miraculous tale? Also, is your writer friend pretty?

AP: This friend of mine, who happens to be you, is gorgeous, and much taller in real life. Yes, you were writing a novel about the Amazon, and then you decided not to write a novel about the Amazon, and then I started writing a novel about the Amazon, and later when we compared notes (your book dismissed, mine halfway finished) they had remarkably similar story lines, to the point of being eerie. I thought this must be because it was an incredibly banal idea and we had both come up with a generic Amazon novel, but then you told me that ideas fly around looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with you it came to me. If this is true I think your name should be on the cover. It would increase sales significantly.

EG: Readers of your prior work--particularly the luminous Bel Canto--will be delighted to see that opera makes an appearance in this novel, as well. In fact, one of the most dramatic scenes in the book takes place at the opera. Is that a wink and a nod to loyal readers, or just an expression of your own deep and abiding musical passions?

AP: It’s a wink and a nod to Werner Herzog and his brilliant Amazon film “Fitzcarraldo” which opens at the opera house in Manaus where the aforementioned scene takes place. I had very little experience with opera when I wrote Bel Canto, and since then it’s become a huge part of my life. It was fun to write a scene set at the opera now that I know what I’m talking about.

EG: State of Wonder a rollicking adventure story, full of peril and bravery and death-defying action. I personally know you to be a homebody who likes to bake muffins for neighbors. How the heck did you pull off this wildness so convincingly? Was it as invigorating to write as it is to read?

AP: Ah, the life of the mind. All the adventure I need I can dream up in my kitchen. I love writing outside of my own experience, making imaginary worlds. If I wrote novels based on my own life I would not be making a living at this. I also love to write a strong plot. I want things to happen in my books, I want to be thrilled. I always think about Raymond Chandler. I’m sure I’m getting the phrasing wrong but the general idea is that when things get slow, bring in a man with a gun. If you can’t find a gun, a poison arrow works just as well.

EG: The cover is a work of beauty. Authors are not always so lucky. Tell us how you managed such a miracle?

AP: When I first started writing this book, I came downstairs one night and found my husband listening to “Horowitz at Carnegie Hall”. The album cover has a very lush filigreed border. I had two thoughts: first, I have an amazing husband who thankfully held onto his Horowitz LPs; second, that the album cover had the exact the feeling I wanted for my book--half jungle, half Baroque period. When I was finished writing the novel I sent the album to my editor, who sent it to the art department. They understood exactly what I was talking about.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Patchett (Bel Canto) is a master storyteller who has an entertaining habit of dropping ordinary people into extraordinary and exotic circumstances to see what they're made of. In this expansive page-turner, Marina Singh, a big pharma researcher, is sent by her married boss/lover to the deepest, darkest corner of the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague, Anders Eckman, who had been dispatched to check on the progress of the incommunicado Dr. Annick Swenson, a rogue scientist on the cusp of developing a fertility drug that could rock the medical profession (and reap enormous profits). After arriving in Manaus, Marina travels into her own heart of darkness, finding Dr. Swenson's camp among the Lakashi, a gentle but enigmatic tribe whose women go on bearing children until the end of their lives. As Marina settles in, she goes native, losing everything she had held on to so dearly in her prescribed Midwestern life, shedding clothing, technology, old loves, and modern medicine in order to find herself. Patchett's fluid prose dissolves in the suspense of this out-there adventure, a juggernaut of a trip to the crossroads of science, ethics, and commerce that readers will hate to see end. (June)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062049801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062049803
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,497 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett's second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician's Assistant, was short-listed for England's Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006.Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper's, The Atlantic,The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

633 of 665 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When one leading publication says to "expect miracles", a book has a lot to live up to. And indeed, in many areas, State of Wonder does meet its hype. Its vivid sense of place, for example, is truly magnificent. One can almost feel hear the buzzing and ravenous mosquitoes, feel the oppressive heat, recoil from the floating snake heads, and feel the power of the storms.

But at the end of the day, I was torn between one crucial question: is a book that is realistic also authentic? How do the two concepts merge...and how do they differ?

Ann Patchett, in State of Wonder, revisits the contemporary adventure story genre, with a provocative tale of an emotionally crippled doctor - Marina Singh - who embarks on an odyssey to the Amazon after learning that her pharma colleague Anders died there. His wife doesn't believe it...and her boss and love interest, Mr. Fox, entreats her to go there to find out what is going on.

He is, after all, invested in the outcome of the research that is going on there. Dr. Annick Swenson - formidable and inscrutable - has been there for years, reportedly working on a new drug that will have a massive effect on female fertility, with the prospect of making his company very rich. Dr. Swenson was Marina's former mentor and her associations with her are fearsome. As a result, the journey to the heart of darkness for Marina is also a plunge into her own emotional terrors.

The exploration of these terrors - along with the world of the Amazon and the Lakisha tribe - are masterfully done. But for me, in the end, the characters became sacrificed to the plot, pacing, and setting.

I did not believe in the relationship between Marina and her widowed older boss, Mr. Fox; neither seemed capable of sustaining it.
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641 of 694 people found the following review helpful By EJ on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am amazed by Ann Patchett's ability to write such riveting books about such a breadth of topics. Bel Canto (P.S.) is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and I never thought she'd be able to match that. With this book, I think she has come close.

State of Wonder is the tale of an epic journey. After an employee of a pharmaceutical company dies in the Amazon, a fellow researcher is sent to find out exactly what happened to him. She is also tasked with clarifying on the company's behalf exactly how much progress has been made on the drug being studied there. The visual picture of the Amazon painted by Patchett is vivid and captivating and the characters are very well-defined and sharply rendered. The plot moves along at a nice pace, though admittedly it does slow a bit in the middle.

As for criticism, the science in the book is a little vague and seems slightly "off". However, the experiments are a sort of backdrop and not the main focus so it's not that big a deal. And Patchett does manage to cover an awful lot of political and ethical issues related to drug development and reproduction that are so nuanced as to appear to occur using sleight-of-hand.

Overall, another very strong book from Patchett and a definite recommend.
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93 of 103 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I can't be the only reader completely astonished by the gushing reviews for this book. The lead character, Marina, is frustratingly, irritatingly passive. If you really examine her scenes she almost never makes full statements, while other people talk in long long passages at her. She does things because people tell her to, she has no spine until the last moments. She is haunted by nightmares that add nothing to the story. On top of all that, the natives (named, I learned on NPR, after Patchett's favorite breakfast cereal) are not humanized at all. We don't get to know any one of them -- not a one -- as a real human being. Basing them on a breakfast cereal is almost offensive. Lastly, the medical aspect of this is just absurd. Chewing on trees?! Really?? And if this wasn't enough, Patchett has added a further discovery besides life-long fertility, an anti-malarial component, that results from all the bark-chewing. How many miraculously implausible medical discoveries can one book take? The ending is bewildering, giving us no clue as to what to make of Marina by the end. Did Patchett mean this story to be comic? (She speaks often in interviews of thinking herself funny, although no one seems to get her humor.) A very frustrating read, perhaps more satisfying to critics than to a regular reader.
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247 of 287 people found the following review helpful By Chris on November 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am amazed that neither Ann Patchett nor her publisher, Harper Collins, bothered to spend 5 minutes fact-checking State of Wonder. I am a fan, enjoyed Bel Canto and then read her other novels. Reviews of State of Wonder were gushingly positive, and since I am an OB GYN, I had a connection to the subject-- search for a fertility drug in the Amazon, missing scientist, I couldn't wait!

With both main characters being OB GYNs, I would have expected Ms Patchett to know that the residency is 4 yrs long, not five. The description of medical education is like nothing I have seen. Third year medical students and residents would not be attending the same lectures. Grand Rounds does not involve putting a trainee on the spot, it is a lecture by an expert. A fertility specialist would not publish articles about gyn surgery. There is no such thing as a "classic T incision" in a c section; the list of errors goes on. You don't have to be an MD to know that an epidemiologist does not give a traveler vaccinations; he studies disease outbreaks in populations. Scientific words and terms are sprinkled in as if for "seasoning", in a nonsensical fashion.

I don't know what to make of the characters addressing each other as Dr., or Mr., in the most intimate of relationships, personal and professional. I don't know anybody who is that formal with colleagues or students.

I did not expect science fiction when I read this novel, so I will not comment on the impossibility of the fertility drug and quest for eternal youth at the heart of the story. But what could the reason be for not making any attempt to frame the story authentically, and not to bother with basic fact checking? All of these errors were like little pebbles in my shoe as I read the book.
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