ARE (Advance Reader's Edition), 349 p.
Source: Publisher/ Harper Collins
From the publisher's website:Two-word review: Utterly compelling!
Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher's expectations.
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.
I really enjoyed Bel Canto when I read it a few years ago, so I was looking forward to Ann Patchett’s new book to be published this summer, despite the fact that it is set in the Amazonian jungle, which is a setting that doesn’t usually appeal to me for some reason. Perhaps I just hadn’t found the right book though because once I started reading State of Wonder, I just didn’t want to stop!
The author has done a wonderful job portraying the characters, from the meek Marina, to the intimidating Dr. Swenson, and all the cast of quirky, interesting characters in between. Ultimately this is a story of human connection and relationships, and I enjoyed how the relationship between Marina and Dr. Swenson unraveled. Even though it is outwardly Marina’s story, as we are told it in her voice, both of them must face their pasts, both personally and professionally, and during the course of their time together in the jungle they make important realizations about themselves and each other.
In addition to the beautifully developed characters, Patchett also brought the jungle vividly to life. I felt like I was transported to the Amazon through the pages of the book, although it probably didn’t hurt that I was reading this book during a very hot and very humid Japanese summer! I could completely relate to the oppressive heat of the jungle, just in my case a concrete jungle. And luckily for me no poisonous snakes!
Strictly speaking, State of Wonder is not a thriller, but the narrative pulled me right along and I never knew what turn the story would take next. There were plenty of unexpected events that took place, with some excitement and adventure along the way. Plus a daring rescue, and even some cannibals! I suppose you could call it a literary page-turner.
I was left with many things to think about, like the ethics and morality of scientific discovery, and the consequences of the medical research they were doing. How far should we go in the name of science? Who is responsible? And of course the complex relationships between many of the characters. I think it will be a wonderful choice for book groups as there is certainly plenty here to discuss.
A wonderful, atmospheric novel, and one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.
For more information, visit Ann Patchett's website and the Harper Collins website.
Buy State of Wonder at: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | BookDepository.com | BookDepository.co.uk
New York Times review
The Guardian review
the little reader
Reading on a Rainy Day
S. Krishna's Books
Bibliophile By the Sea
Everyday I Write the Book
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