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State of Wonder

State of Wonder

3.8 784
by Ann Patchett

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In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself


In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.

Editorial Reviews

Sometimes being on the vanguard of scientific progress thrusts you into the teeth of danger. For Minnesota pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh, that means being sent into the remotest region of the Amazon jungle to track down her former mentor. Finding Dr. Annick Swenson promises to be perilous: The last scientist assigned to find her has disappeared too. What follows is the most ambitious novel yet by Bel Canto author Ann Patchett as its adventure story opens into a penetrating study of personalities, loyalties, and ethics. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
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)
“In fluid and remarkably atmospheric prose, Patchett captures not only the sights and sounds of the chaotic jungle environment but also the struggles and sacrifice of dedicated scientists.”
O magazine
“The large canvas of sweeping moral issues, both personal and global, comes to life through careful attention to details, however seemingly mundane—from ill-fitting shoes and mosquito bites to a woman tenderly braiding another woman’s hair.”
New York Times
“An engaging, consummately told tale.”
Washington Post
“This is surely the smartest, most exciting novel of the summer.”
Wall Street Journal
“Packs a textbook’s worth of ethical conundrums into a smart and tidily delivered story. . . . Ms. Patchett presents an alluring interplay between civilization and wilderness, between aid and exploitation.”
“The Amazon setting is something Patchett does rather marvelously. . . . The book is serious, but also so pleasurable that you hope it won’t end.”
The New Yorker
“Emotionally lucid. . . . Patchett is at her lyrical best when she catalogues the jungle.”
“Outlandishly entertaining . . . [with] a brilliantly constructed plot.”
Shelf Awareness
“Patchett makes the jungle jump off the page…This is Patchett’s best effort since The Patron Saint of Liars and, yes, that includes Bel Canto
MORE Magazine
“A thrilling new novel. . . . The world imagined in this novel is unusually vivid. . . . Reading State of Wonder is a sensory experience, and even after it’s over you’ll keep hearing the sounds of insects, and your own head will still be hot.”
Library Journal
In this superbly rendered novel, Patchett (Run) takes the reader into the primitive world of the Amazon in Brazil. Pharmacologist Marina Singh from Minnesota works for the pharmaceutical company Vogel. Her colleague Anders Eckman dies in the jungle while trying to locate Dr. Annick Swenson, who has been working on a fertility drug for Vogel by studying the Lakashi people, whose women bear children into old age. Marina's journey to the Amazon to find the uncommunicative and intimidating Dr. Swenson and to discover the details of Anders's death is fraught with poisonous snakes and poisonous memories, malarial mosquitoes and sickening losses, but her time among the Lakashi tribe is transformative. VERDICT Not a sentimental view of a primitive people, Patchett's portrayal is as wonderful as it is frightening and foreign. Patchett exhibits an extraordinary ability to bring the horrors and the wonders of the Amazon jungle to life, and her singular characters are wonderfully drawn. Readers who enjoy exotic locales will especially be interested, but all will find this story powerful and captivating. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]—Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
Kirkus Reviews
A pharmacologist travels into the Amazonian heart of darkness in this spellbinder from bestselling author Patchett (Run,2007, etc.).

Marina Singh is dispatched from the Vogel pharmaceutical company to Brazil to find out what happened to her colleague Anders Eckman, whose death was announced in a curt letter from Annick Swenson. Anders had been sent to check on Dr. Swenson's top-secret research project among the Lakashi tribe, whose women continue to bear children into their 60s and 70s. If a fertility drug can be derived from whatever these women are ingesting, the potential rewards are so enormous that Swenson has been pursuing her work for years with scant oversight from Vogel; the company doesn't even know exactly where she is in the Amazon. Marina, who went into pharmacology after making a disastrous mistake as an obstetrics resident under Dr. Swenson's supervision, really doesn't want to see this intimidating woman again, but she feels an obligation to her friend Anders and his grief-stricken wife. So she goes to Manaus, seeking clues to Dr. Swenson's location in the jungle. By the time the doctor turns up unexpectedly, Patchett has skillfully crafted a portrait from Marina's memories and subordinates' comments that gives Swenson the dark eminence of Joseph Conrad's Mr. Kurtz. Engaged like Kurtz in godlike pursuits among the natives, Swenson is performing some highly unorthodox experiments, the ramifications of which have even more possibilities than Vogel imagines. Indeed, the multiple and highly dramatic developments that ensue once Marina gets to the Lakashi village might seem ridiculous, if Patchett had not created such credible characters and a dreamlike milieu in which anything seems possible. Nail-biting action scenes include a young boy's near-mortal crushing by a 15-foot anaconda, whose head Marina lops off with a machete; they're balanced by contemplative moments that give this gripping novel spiritual and metaphysical depth, right down to the final startling plot twist.

Thrilling, disturbing and moving in equal measures—even better than Patchett's breakthroughBel Canto(2001).

Ron Charles
…another dazzling work. As gripping as it is thoughtful, it burns with the low-level fever of Heart of Darkness, but its most febrile moments soar into the creepiness of The Island of Doctor Moreau…Loaded as the story is with profound ethical issues, Patchett also knows when to pack light to keep the adventure moving…This is surely the smartest, most exciting novel of the summer.
—The Washington Post
Fernanda Eberstadt
…an engaging, consummately told tale. Patchett's deadpan narrative style showcases a dry humor that enables her to wed, with fine effect, the world of Avatar or the Odyssey with that of corporate board meetings, R&D reports and peer review. This unlikely marriage of the magical and the prosaic, of poison-tipped arrows and Fourth of July barbecues, informs every line of her prose…And if she succeeds in domesticating the exotic, Patchett's even greater gift is in defamiliarizing the homey, giving suburban housewives and Minnesota flatlands the aching beauty and primal force of elements found in a creation myth.
—The New York Times
the Oprah Magazine O
“The large canvas of sweeping moral issues, both personal and global, comes to life through careful attention to details, however seemingly mundane—from ill-fitting shoes and mosquito bites to a woman tenderly braiding another woman’s hair.”
O: the Oprah Magazine
“The large canvas of sweeping moral issues, both personal and global, comes to life through careful attention to details, however seemingly mundane—from ill-fitting shoes and mosquito bites to a woman tenderly braiding another woman’s hair.”
Boston Globe
“Extraordinary. . . . Is there nothing the prodigiously talented Ann Patchett can’t do? . . . Patchett’s last knockout pages proceed full-speed ahead, with more twists and turns and trachery than the Amazon River. Nothing is as it seems, and the ending is as shocking as it’s satisfying.”
No Source
“A thrilling new novel. . . . The world imagined in this novel is unusually vivid. . . . Reading State of Wonder is a sensory experience, and even after it’s over you’ll keep hearing the sounds of insects, and your own head will still be hot.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

State of Wonder

By Ann Patchett


Copyright © 2011 Ann Patchett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-204980-3

Chapter One

The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram,
a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the
stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the en-
velope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet
had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a
breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor
it to this world. Mr. Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the
lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door she
smiled at him and in the light of that smile he faltered.
"What?" she said finally.
He opened his mouth and then closed it. When he tried again all
he could say was, "It's snowing."
"I heard on the radio it was going to." The window in the lab where
she worked faced out into the hall and so she never saw the weather
until lunchtime. She waited for a minute for Mr. Fox to say what he
had come to say. She didn't think he had come all the way from his
office in the snow, a good ten buildings away, to give her a weather
report, but he only stood there in the frame of the open door, unable
either to enter the room or step out of it. "Are you all right?"
"Eckman's dead," he managed to say before his voice broke, and
then with no more explanation he gave her the letter to show just how
little about this awful fact he knew.
There were more than thirty buildings on the Vogel campus, labs
and office buildings of various sizes and functions. There were
labs with stations for twenty technicians and scientists to work at the
same time. Others had walls and walls of mice or monkeys or dogs. This
particular lab Marina had shared for seven years with Dr. Eckman. It
was small enough that all Mr. Fox had to do was reach a hand towards
her, and when he did she took the letter from him and sat down slowly
in the gray plastic chair beside the separator. At that moment she un-
derstood why people say You might want to sit down. There was inside of
her a very modest physical collapse, not a faint but a sort of folding, as
if she were an extension ruler and her ankles and knees and hips were
all being brought together at closer angles. Anders Eckman, tall in his
white lab coat, his hair a thick graying blond. Anders bringing her a
cup of coffee because he'd picked one up for himself. Anders giving
her the files she'd asked for, half sitting down on the edge of her desk
while he went over her data on proteins. Anders father of three. Anders
not yet fifty. Her eyes went to the dates—March 15th on the letter,
March 18th on the postmark, and today was April 1st. Not only was
he dead, he was two weeks dead. They had accepted the fact that they
wouldn't hear from him often and now she realized he had been gone
so long that at times he would slip from her mind for most of a day.
The obscurity of the Amazonian tributary where Dr. Swenson did her
research had been repeatedly underscored to the folks back in Minne-
sota (Tomorrow this letter will be handed over to a child floating downriver in a dugout
log, Anders had written her. I cannot call it a canoe. There never were statistics
written to cover the probability of its arrival.), but still, it was in a country, it
was in the world. Surely someone down there had an Internet connec-
tion. Had they never bothered to find it? "Wouldn't she call you? There
has to be some sort of global satellite—"
"She won't use the phone, or she says it doesn't work there." As
close as they were in this quiet room she could scarcely hear his voice.
"But for this—" She stopped herself. He didn't know. "Where is he
now?" Marina asked. She could not bring herself to say his body. Anders
was not a body. Vogel was full of doctors, doctors working, doctors
in their offices drinking coffee. The cabinets and storage rooms and
desk drawers were full of drugs, pills of every conceivable stripe. They
were a pharmaceutical company; what they didn't have they figured
out how to make. Surely if they knew where he was they could find
something to do for him, and with that thought her desire for the im-
possible eclipsed every piece of science she had ever known. The dead
were dead were dead were dead and still Marina Singh did not have to
shut her eyes to see Anders Eckman eating an egg salad sandwich in
the employee cafeteria as he had done with great enthusiasm every day
she had known him.
"Don't you read the reports on cholesterol?" she would ask, always
willing to play the straight man.
"I write the reports on cholesterol," Anders said, running his finger
around the edge of his plate.
Mr. Fox lifted his glasses, pressed his folded handkerchief against
the corners of his eyes. "Read the letter," he said.
She did not read it aloud.
Jim Fox,
The rain has been torrential here, not unseasonable yet year after year it
never ceases to surprise me. It does not change our work except to make it more
time-consuming and if we have been slowed we have not been deterred. We
move steadily towards the same excellent results.
But for now this business is not our primary concern. I write with
unfortunate news of Dr. Eckman, who died of a fever two nights ago. Given
our location, this rain, the petty bureaucracies of government (both this one
and your own), and the time sensitive nature of our project, we chose to bury
him here in a manner in keeping with his Christian traditions. I must tell you
it was no small task. As for the purpose of Dr. Eckman's mission, I assure
you we are making strides. I will keep what little he had here for his wife, to
whom I trust you will extend this news along with my sympathy. Despite any
setbacks, we persevere.
Annick Swenson
Marina started over at the top. When she had read it through
again she still could not imagine what to say. "Is she calling Anders
a setback?"
She held the letter by its slightest edges as if it were a document still
to be submitted into evidence. Clearly the paper had been wet at some
point and then dried again. She could tell by the way it was puckered
in places, it had been carried out in the rain. Dr. Swenson knew all
about the relationship of paper and ink and rain and so she cut in her
letters with a pencil of hard, dark lead, while on the other side of Eden
Prairie, Minnesota, Karen Eckman sat in a two-story brick colonial
thinking her husband was in Brazil and would be coming home as
soon as he could make Dr. Swenson listen to reason.
Marina looked at the clock. They should go soon, before it was
time for Karen to pick the children up from school. Every now and
then, if Anders happened to look at his watch at two-thirty, he would
say to himself in a quiet voice, School's out. Three little Eckmans, three
boys, who, like their mother, did not know enough to picture their
father dead. For all that loss Dr. Swenson had managed to use just
over half the sheet of paper, and in the half a sheet she used she had
twice thought to mention the weather. The rest of it simply sat there,
a great blue sea of emptiness. How much could have been said in
those remaining inches, how much explained, was beyond scientific
Mr. Fox closed the door and came to stand beside Marina's chair.
He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed, and because the blinds
on the windows that faced the hall were down she dropped her cheek
against the top of his hand and for a while they stayed like this, washed
over in the palest blue fluorescent light. It was a comfort to them both.
Mr. Fox and Marina had never discussed how they would conduct
their relationship at work. They had no relationship at work, or not
one that was different from anyone else's. Mr. Fox was the CEO of
Vogel. Marina was a doctor who worked in statin development. They
had met, really met, for the first time late the summer before at a com-
pany softball game, doctors vs. administration. Mr. Fox came over to
compliment her pitching, and that compliment led to a discussion of
their mutual fondness for baseball. Mr. Fox was not a doctor. He had
been the first CEO to come from the manufacturing side. When she
spoke of him to other people she spoke of Mr. Fox. When she spoke to
him in front of other people she addressed him as Mr. Fox. The prob-
lem was calling him Jim when they were alone. That, it turned out, was
a much more difficult habit to adopt.
"I shouldn't have sent him," Mr. Fox said.
She raised her head then and took his hand in her hands. Mr. Fox
had no reason to wear a lab coat. Today he wore a dark gray suit and
striped navy tie, and while it was a dignified uniform for a man of sixty,
he looked out of place whenever he strayed from the administrative
offices. Today it occurred to Marina that he looked like he was on his
way to a funeral. "You didn't make him go."
"I asked him to go. I suppose he could have turned me down but it
wasn't very likely."
"But you never thought something like this would happen. You
didn't send him someplace dangerous." Marina wondered if she knew
this to be true. Of course there were poisonous snakes and razor-
toothed fish but she pictured them safely away from the places where
doctors conducted scientific research. Anyway, the letter had said he
died of a fever, not a snake bite. There were plenty of fevers to be had
right here in Minnesota. "Dr. Swenson's been down there for five years
now. Nothing's happened to her."
"It wouldn't happen to her," Mr. Fox said without kindness in his voice.
Anders had wanted to go to the Amazon. That was the truth.
What are the chances a doctor who worked in statin development
would be asked to go to Brazil just as winter was becoming unendur-
able? He was a serious birder. Every summer he put the boys in a canoe
and paddled them through the Boundary Waters with binoculars and
notepads looking for ruddy ducks and pileated woodpeckers. The first
thing he did when he got word about the trip was order field guides to
the rain forest, and when they came he abandoned all pretense of work.
He put the blood samples back in the refrigerator and pored over the
slick, heavy pages of the guides. He showed Marina the birds he hoped
to see, wattled jacanas with toes as long as his hand, guira cuckoos
with downy scrub brushes attached to the tops of their heads. A person
could wash out the inside of a pickle jar with such a bird. He bought a
new camera with a lens that could zoom straight into a nest from fifty
feet away. It was not the kind of luxury Anders would have afforded
himself under normal circumstances.
"But these are not normal circumstances," he said, and took a pic-
ture of his coworker at her desk.
At the bright burst of the flash, Marina raised her head from a
black-necked red cotinga, a bird the size of a thumb who lived in
a cone-shaped daub of mud attached to the tip of a leaf. "It's an
ambitious lot of birds." She studied every picture carefully, mar-
veling at the splendors of biodiversity. When she saw the hyacinth
macaws she experienced one split second of regret that she wasn't the
one Mr. Fox had tapped for the job. It was a singularly ridiculous
thought. "You'll be too busy with birds to ever find the time to talk
to Dr. Swenson."
"I imagine I'll find a lot of birds before I find Dr. Swenson, and
when I do find her I doubt she'll pack up on the first day and rush
back to Johns Hopkins. These things take finesse. Mr. Fox said that
himself. That leaves me with a lot of daylight hours."
Finding Dr. Swenson was an issue. There was an address in Manaus
but apparently it was nowhere near the station where she did her field
research; that location, she believed, needed to be protected with the
highest level of secrecy in order to preserve both the unspoiled nature
of her subjects and the value of the drug she was developing. She had
made the case so convincingly that not even Mr. Fox knew where she
was exactly, other than somewhere on a tributary off the Rio Negro.
How far away from Manaus that tributary might begin and in which
direction it ran no one could say. Worse than that was the sense that
finding her was going to be the easy part. Marina looked at Anders
straight on and again he raised his camera. "Stop that," she said,
and turned her palm to the lens. "What if you can't get her to come
back at all?"
"Of course I can," Anders said. "She likes me. Why do you think
I'm the one Mr. Fox decided to send?"
It was possible that Dr. Swenson had liked him on the one day she
spent at Vogel seven years ago, when she had sat at a conference table
with Anders and four other doctors and five executives who made up
the Probability Assessment Group to discuss the preliminary budget
for the development of a program in Brazil. Marina could have told
him Dr. Swenson had no idea who he was, but why would she have said
that? Surely he knew.


Excerpted from State of Wonder by Ann Patchett Copyright © 2011 by Ann Patchett. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ann Patchett is the author of five novels: the New York Times bestselling Run; The Patron Saint of Liars, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Taft, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; The Magician's Assistant; and Bel Canto, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Orange Prize, the BookSense Book of the Year, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of two works of nonfiction: the New York Times bestselling Truth & Beauty and What now? Patchett has written for many publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, Gourmet, the New York Times, Vogue, and the Washington Post. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Brief Biography

Nashville, Tennessee
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1963
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1987

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