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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: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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)

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

The characters are compelling, the story is really fascinating and moving, and the writing is beautiful.
Diane
I finished it for book club, but felt like I do when I get stuck watching a bad movie and just want to see how it ends.
Katie Green
I found it slow, boring, weak characters, pages of mundane conversations, unrealistic plot and an implausable ending.
Adrienne Vaurnet

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

582 of 610 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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622 of 669 people found the following review helpful By E. Jacobs 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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259 of 300 people found the following review helpful By deeper waters on May 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read "State of Wonder" before looking at reader reviews and was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to a book that I found to be average. Patchett takes on the ambitious task of bringing Marina's significant ambivalent relationships ~ with her dead father, medical school professor, office mate, employer-lover ~ along with the ethical issues of pharmaceutical R&D with indigenous cultures, into a cohesive whole. While the premise was good, the turn of the phrase distinctive and the socio-economic topic timely and important, there was something off with the total picture. The characters were flat and unlikeable, transitions frequently vague and despite the abundance of scientific information (questionable though some might be) and a vivid sensory image of life in the jungle, it did not draw me in. Patchett was successful in creating the heavy blanket of disconnect and ambiguity that defined Marina's personal and professional life, but on a whole, this was not a particularly memorable novel.
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218 of 253 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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