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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Ann Patchett provides a bland, stereotyped, pretentious portrayal of the jungle, the local tribal people, and the professors that are apparently on some sort of rogue medical adventure (their research going unreported to the drug company that continues to fund them.....not a plausible scenario in real life). I have a degree in Anthropology from a world renowned university and never once did I ever hear one of my professors (even the old, white haired, spectacle sporting types)refer to indigenous people as "an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned". Granted, it is the harsh, unlikable 'Dr. Swensen' who says this, however, after years in the jungle and multiple degrees I highly doubt any professor would make such an ignorant statement.
In another passage, after the Lakashi tribe swims out in an attempt to board a boat, one of the other banal, dumb doctors in the jungle, makes the statement "They only want a little recognition. If you don't acknowledge what they're doing they just keep doing it. Frankly, I don't think they're such good swimmers. You can't drown half the tribe on the way to the trading post". Is this Patchett's attempt at a joke? As if a group of people living on the banks of the Amazon would allow their tribe to drown trying to get on a boat with a bunch of crotchety, white doctors.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fascinating & poetic portrayal of unspoilt natural beauty and the threat of human intervention.Published 2 days ago by anne kersch
Fascinating read. I can't even imagine how she came up with the story. I loved the character development and the web of the story. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Lisa Montanaro
Would not have thought I would like this type of story. However, the more I read, I did not want to put it down. Our book club discussed this book for almost 2 hrs. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Frannie
Simply amazing. I read Bel Canto a year or so ago. I've no idea why it took me so long to read another of Patchett's books, but i won't make that mistake twice. Read morePublished 4 days ago by New England Reader
Prominent writers rave about Ann Patchett. So it felt overdue to give her a try. I wish I had sampled another of her books as a first because after this one, I am not so sure I... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Thomas A.
Easy to follow without too many complicated characters, who are primarily sympathetic. I come away with a sense of place, but not with any underlying need to consider the story... Read morePublished 15 days ago by Guido Giuntini