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.
State of Wonderby Ann Patchett
"Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett's fiction."—New York Times Book Review
Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional/b>/b>
"Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett's fiction."—New York Times Book Review
Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional urgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels Bel Canto, Taft, Run, The Magician's Assistant, and The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.
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).
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Read an Excerpt
State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Ann Patchett
All right reserved.
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 datesMarch 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.
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.
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
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.
- 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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Great atmosphere and entertaining, the story moves without pause and is never boring. Loaded with tension and sense of foreboding, there are several places that were truly hard to read. The story surged forward with unpredictable twists and turns and kept me engrossed right up to the last page. Marina is a research doctor in Minnesota. A teammate, Anders, dies in the jungles of the Amazon. For some reason, her employer and secret lover, Mr. Fox, wants Marina to seek out the truth about Anders' death. She couldn't understand, why her? She has no skills in the area and knows little about the project in the Amazon. She and Anders were working together on a cholesterol drug. After getting together with Anders' grieving wife and sons, Marina feels it her duty to make the journey, even though she will once again meet her stern mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson. Swenson knows things about Marina that Marina wants to forget. Marina Singh's real exploration is her discovery of other people and of herself. This is another excellent Patchett work that will not be able to tear yourself away from.
I'm such a sucker for a well-written book that makes me think, and this book was all of that and then some. Read the synopsis and it sounds like a book about doctors and the Amazon and ethics; and it is. But to me, the central theme of the story is about mentors. How is it possible that our mentors and teachers keep us under their spell and eager for their approval for years after we've grown up? Or for years after we've known them for the imperfect humans they really are? Where does that pull come from? In this story, nearly every person has a mentor they are trying to understand or trying to cover for or trying to earn praise from, then I found myself falling under their spells, too. This was a very intriguing book and I recommend it to absolutely anyone who loves to read books several times to find something different each time.
I am truly surprised by the 3 star rating on this book because I couldn't put it down! It really annoyed my family. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much!
I loved reading this wonderful book! It has a story that keeps you entertained for hours.
I fell in love with this book. I love Ann Patchett, Bel Canto was a masterpiece, and so was this book until the very end. I really thought the ending would be totally different and it disappointed me. I actually went back and read the ending twice just to see if I was missing something, but alas, there wasn't. Still a wonderful book and I would recommend it just for atmosphere alone.
This book holds up to Ms. Patchett's high standards of acute observation of human nature. She presents ethical and moral dilemmas through the thoughts and actions of her characters. Life is never "black and white" in her stories. This story, as did "Bel Canto", repeatedly raises the question of what is the "right" thing to do. Do circumstances affect what is "right"? There are no easy answers, but we readers are improved by contemplating the questions.
Who knew a research scientist, the amazon, anaconda's, cannibals and a mysterious "fertility" drug would be that interesting! Read this book over the weekend and I just couldn't put it down. The critics were right when they praised this book.
If it was not a selection for my book club I would never have finished this book. The story is ridiculous, characters are mostly whiny and self-centered and the writing is unexceptional. Do not understand why other readers found the story so exciting. I couldn't wait for it to end. I also find it interesting that Ann Patchett never mentions where she found her information about the Amazon or the tribes that might inhabit it. If you want to read an exciting and incredibly interesting story about the Amazon, read River of Doubt.
Loved this book, my first by this author and it won' t be my last. I felt like I was right there along with Marina in Brazil trying to find Anders!! When she talked about how hot it was and how many bugs there were I truly started to get hot and my skin started to crawl. You will feel like you are part of this story!!!!
The story was interesting and thought provoking. I think the ending was rushed ....actually the whole book was rushed. I could have stood more content and character development. Not sorry I read it but it really could have been better.
This was a hard read becaue the story moved so slowly. Nothing feels exciting. Everything that should have had you on the edge of your seat was like, meh. Hated most of the book especially the ending! Ridiculous!
Hard to give this book even one star. Even the author got bored with this story and rushed to finish it in the last ten pages. Implausible story with an ending that puts the main characters to shame. The positive reviews must have been written by the author's friends and editor. Bought this as an ebook - money and time wasted - can I get a refund?
Almost nothing in this tale is believable. The narrator calls her lover "Mr." rather than use his given name. She seems careless and unprepared for her trip to the jungle. A drug company has supposedly supported a lab in the jungle for many years without any results or reports from the Dr in charge. That's about all I can say without giving away the story. Ann Patchett does exhibit a vivid imagination but the plot and characters are not plausible.
I am amazed by all the hype about this book. How implausible to think that women would want to remain fertile until they die! You really have so suspend your grip on reality to like this book. I found it fantastical and ridiculous. Perhaps it should be put into the fairy tale genre.
It just got worse and worse and worse. I couldn't believe this was by the author of Bel Canto. Ridiculous storyline and flat characterization.
I struggled with this book, my wife as well! It left me hanging at the end. I would not reccomend it to anyone
Why was this book on so many of my recommendation lists? it seemed like every where i looked this book came up as one of the best books of the year. I even read some really good reviews. So why I ask. For starters there is nothing about the writing that jumped out at me as beautiful. Then there were the characters themselves who were poorly developed. I couldnt bring myself to like any of them. I will not lie, i did not even finish this book. Maybe it is the ending that makes this story great but ive read two thirds of it and im bored to death! It drags on and on! My advice, get it from the library first before you buy it. Truly a dissapointing book!
This was a good book, but I was not satisfied with the ending It didn't seem to follow with what I thouht the characters were like
The writing was beautiful, but the story didn't really live up to its potential. The ending was a disappointment.
Wonderful, engaging book. This was a page turner that I wanted to quickly read but knew I needed to read slowly to relish every page because books like this don't come around very often. I highly recommend this unique story. Warning: once you start reading you will not be able to get a constructive thing done in your life...this book will occupy your every waking moment.
If you like slow books,this is the book for you. I was never on the edge of my seat with this read. I honestly fell asleep several times while reading it. This was my first time reading her book and I was pretty much a snooze fest. I will say it was well written but Iam not sure if I would be willing to try a book from her again.
I've read everything she has written so was eager to try this one as soon as I could get it. Well written, original story as I'd expect. I did think some of the storyline could have been more developed, and I finished wishing there had been more of a wrap up. Overall, this book does not disappoint, though there is less danger and intrigue than the reviews I initially read led me to expect.
Different subject matter, wouldn't recommend it. Interesting subject matter, but the book was extremely slow for the first 6 chapters. Ms. Patchett was very good at developing her characters, however, I was constantly waiting for something to happen. The outcome with Easter is sad.
As a woman of child bearing age, I read this book and think "what is wrong with this picture: what woman would want to have a child at seventy? What woman would want to keep having periods past sixty?" The most ridiculous plot ever. I am not quite sure why this thought ever came to her and why she then wrote 300 pages on it. The only I finished it was to see if Eckman was alive or dead.
I truly enjoyed reading anything from Ann Patchett/ Her new book. State of Wonder is a page turner and so beautifully written. I highly recomend it Looking forward to hearing her speak at Arts Lecture this week.