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State of Wonder Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2011
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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
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Hardcover : 353 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780062049803
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062049803
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.17 x 9 inches
- Lexile measure : 990
- Publisher : Harper; 1st edition (June 7, 2011)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0062049801
- Best Sellers Rank: #238,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The basic plot of "State of Wonder": In the first sentence we learn that Dr. Anders Eckman is dead. Anders had traveled deep into the Amazon at the behest of his employer, a Minneapolis-based pharmaceutical company that has a researcher working at a secret site on a secret drug that will revolutionize the world. But the researcher is incommunicado. Anders was sent to investigate. And then tragedy strikes. With few details about his death and no body (he was hastily buried in the jungle), Dr. Marina Singh, Anders's officemate, is sent to the Amazon to find out what happened to this married father of three young boys. And so begins a state of wonder in which the reader will be carried with descriptions so vivid that it's easy to envision the chaos and blistering heat of the jungle and almost hear the squawking birds and screeching creatures that inhabit it. Marina's perfectly ordinary life has been upended and will never be perfectly ordinary again.
But the book is so much more than plot--no matter how riveting and engrossing. It is also about people, our connections, the choices we make and the effects those choices have on us and others.
I expected a book about exploring the Amazon. The first half of the book was all about the main character, a doctor and scientist, and her work and personal relationships in Minnesota. By the time she flies to Manaus to look for a lost colleague, one is already half-way through the book.
Eventually, the person she is waiting for in Manaus shows up, and she follows them into the jungle. From here, her experiences are so different from what I would have expected, yet interesting and profound. I really enjoyed stepping into this woman's shoes and experiencing everything she experienced. It's like adventure travel, combined with science and moral dilemmas, and calls for bravery in multiple situations. To my surprise, the book winds up with a very satisfying ending.
I would give this book 4 1/2 stars if I could. I will definitely read another one by this author
Top reviews from other countries
State of Wonder is a masterpiece novel, written by true wordsmith Ann Patchett. Patchett is unbelievably talented and this book left me with a feeling of Wow.
State of Wonder starts with the death of Anders Eckman, a Research Doctor for pharmaceutical company Vogel. He was in the Amazon searching for Dr. Swenson, who had gone AWOL.
Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague, goes on a journey to the Amazon to uncover the mystery surrounding his death. On this journey, Marina will have to confront her past, learn the progress of Dr. Swenson’s research in the present, with the hopes that the life-long fertility drug will save Vogel’s future.
But what she finds is so much more than what she expected. Marina goes on a journey that transforms her from within.
State of Wonder readers will forget to eat, go to bed later than normal and completely lose track of time. Purely because they are driven to read on by all aspects of this brilliant story: the plot, the description and the characters.
The complexity of the plot is utterly captivating, completely compelling and has some great twists. Every aspect of this book’s plot is strong: the beginning, middle and end. Patchett’s superb description in State of Wonder sent my imagination into overdrive and immersed me fully into that beautiful but deadly part of the world.
Patchett’s characters are brilliantly crafted. Patchett explores a range ethical issues through her characters perspectives and gives some interesting points of view. These points of view are consistent with her characters and leave the reader plenty to think over, long after they have finished reading the book. State of Wonder is one of those rare books that leaves the reader feeling somehow changed inside.
State of Wonder is beyond marvellous. It is probably the best work of fiction that I’ve read in years. If I had to rate it out of 5 stars, I’d give it 6 stars.
State of Wonder far exceeded any expectations I had for it. My copy of the book had the old book cover which was both fantastic and appealing. I don’t know what the publishers were thinking with the new book cover (pictured above). It looks cheap and does nothing to attract a potential reader. If you’re thinking about picking up this novel, ignore any feelings about the cover and do. It is an essential read for any lover of fiction.
I cannot heap enough praise on Patchett for this novel. State of Wonder will leave readers in a State of Wonder. See what I did there? Despite this play on words, that is actually how a reader will feel when he or she finishes the book.
State of Wonder is available to buy on Amazon and at all good bookshops.
The narrative keeps us balanced between the wonders of the remote rainforests and the dangers ready to jump at any moment. The writing allows us to step inside this world and see the expanse and allure of the rainforests, feel the humidity and atmosphere of the jungle, and get a sense of the hidden tribes that exist in these regions. Many tribes have never engaged with the outside world and some are still cannibalistic, while others have accepted strangers. Each tribe is very territorial with their own unique characteristics and secrets. The rituals and cultures dictate so much of the actions taken and many are just so alien to our experiences. The pace of the book is gentle but you just want to keep turning the pages. It is a brilliant engrossing story of exceptional insight.
This is a compelling read where scientific research fueled by pharmacological goals and expectations clash with the realities of life on the ground, in this case in the Amazon jungle. It's a fascinating and thought-provoking story that is very well told.