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State of Wonder Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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About the Author
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, includingBel Canto(winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize), and the nonfiction bestsellersWhat now?andTruth & Beauty. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is co-owner of Parnassus Books.
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I'm not sure if I loved it, but I definitely didn't hate it. The book is indeed, as some reviewers pointed out, plot driven. The reader is constantly wondering what will happen next. Will our main character die of a fever or step on a poisonous snake?
But I disagree with some reviewers who feel the characters were not well drawn. In fact, my mom and I talked about the book and speculated about what would happen next. We are sure a sequel is possible. That tells me that we liked the characters enough to see them again.
What was so remarkable about this story was the place. Set in the heart of Brazil and then deep in the Amazon jungle, the book gives a vivid and beautifully written description of place. Readers never feel as if the author has taken us away from the perils that lie everywhere. It makes me not want to visit that part of the world!
The only reason I gave this book 4 instead of 5 stars was the inability to believe certain things. I found myself coming out of the story (not good for a reader) and thinking, "no way!" First of all, would a pharma company invest that much time and money on a project and get no status reports, not a one? I doubt it. Would investors in that company allow it to do so? Perhaps for a short while but not for years. Secondly, what the strange and elusive Dr. Swenson was investigating seemed way beyond my ability to suspend disbelief. I can't say what that was in order not to give anything away.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book. It kept me turning pages and wanting more. What more can we ask of a novel?
I was not sure I wanted to read this book as I had read "Bel Canto" previously and did not like it at all. (I would have given it ONE star.) The lesson for me was that just because I did not like one book by a particular author it's not a reason to never read another book by the same author.
In the beginning of the novel we learn with Marina Singh, a pharmocologist in Minnesota, that her colleague, Anders Eckman, has died of a fever in the Amazon. The next paragraphs, leading to the moment when she informs his wife, are slow and excrutiatingly paced, which accentuates the impact, so that I almost had to put the book down when it came to the moment that they were going to tell Karen Eckman that her husband was dead.
From there, Marina must fly to the Amazon to investigate the death and make a report of the progress of the fertility drug Marina's former professor, Dr. Swenson, is creating. Marina goes reluctantly, for personal and professional reasons. The transplant of a person from a northern climate to the humid, insect-run, verdancy of a tropical jungle is something I've experienced first hand, and though the Amazon is far beyond any jungle I've ever visited in India, the experience was remarkably familiar. I was right there again, gasping for breath in the humidity.
The story goes from there, and the plot continues to twist and surprise delightfully and skillfully. It's an incredible read, full of detail about the lives of the Amazonian indigenous group Dr Swenson lives among. Though Dr Swenson has her way of living among the Lakashi, Marina comes to develop her own way, much more symbiotic with the way the Lakashi live. The book is in depth, and many questions about research and relationships come to the surface. The effect of the jungle on Marina is foremost in the novel's development. Patchett's character development is wonderful and we are with her main character through her confusion, sorrows, redemption and mistakes. Even Dr. Swenson has her own arc, from an unbendable tyrant to someone we see as completely human, completely vulnerable.
State of Wonder seemed to have the perfect blend of the fantastic and the small, gritty detail. The world that Ann Patchett creates in her new novel takes flights of fantasy so wonderful you shake your head in amazement, but in the very next sentence she brings you into the scene with such gravity that you are sure she is telling nothing but the truth. The truth just happens to be wilder than you ever knew.
Which is perhaps the genius of the book, because the truth is that life is a completely different thing in the fertile, exploding-with-life jungle, and the degrees one needs to shift to understand it are not unlike the degrees between science and fantasy in this novel.
Even after I put the book down, I kept having little pings of understanding in my brain, as I registered some subtle plot mechanism. Patchett's sentences flow effortlessly, her timing is perfect. The book lingered in my mind for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.