!KINDLE ⚉ State of Wonder ⚖ As Dr Marina Singh Embarks Upon An Uncertain Odyssey Into The Insect Infested , 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
A scientific jungle experiment investigation involving an elderly and rather secretive matriarchal doctor who leads the experiment, a missing deceased company representative who was sent to investigate what the experiment is up to, and a female company representative who happens to also be a former medical student of the matriarch who is sent to investigate what happened to the previous company representative.In spite of lengthy descriptions of the experiment and professorial soliloquising by the matriarch, the science and ethics of the experiment is secondary to the drama of the story, and perhaps because I didn t really care for any of the characters I cared even less about their dramas The general plot kept the story going in an unobjectionable direction the experiment was a little bizarre extending the fertility of women beyond the normal time of menopause but the direction the matriarch headed with it was fairly balanced, and she combined it with experiments that wereurgently needed for the health of the poor.Yet many of the characters had confused little escapades along the way, the main character is in a non public physical relationship with her 20 years senior boss, and view spoiler the elderly matriarch is participating in her own experiment and is 7 months pregnant the father s identity is left unclear , and in a rather strange episode the main character sleeps with a man she has just rescued, told in a way that implies any two friends would do surely the same after all they d been through The typical assumption of our age, I guess, but not particularly edifying to read about hide spoiler Mistah Kurtz, he dead, well, Mr Eckman anyway At Minnesota based Vogel pharmaceuticals, weeks old news of bio researcher Anders Eckman s ian demise leads the company to send another scientist to find out what happened, and to complete Eckman s charge He had been sent to determine the status of research, on a long overdue revolutionary fertility drug, being conducted by the reclusive, and somewhat scary Doctor Annick Swenson think Kurtz Pharmacological researcher Marina Singh think Marlow is sent to the remote Brazilian research station to investigate Along the way she has to overcome several obstacles, including a pair of gatekeepers in a Brazilian city, conflict about leaving her significant other, and a fear of facing her former teacher In addition there are the physical challenges of travelling up river into this remote and forbidding place, some incoming poison arrows, a plague of insects, a very large snake, and some persistent nightmares Ann Patchett at her bookstore image from her siteIn a road trip journey of self discovery story, it is first imperative that one identify with the searcher While Marina is a somewhat sympathetic character, it is tough to feel wholly supportive of her, let alone empathetic She has committed some errors in her life, like the rest of us, but she keeps making such dumb mistakes that she makes one think she might have been better off staying home Following is borderline spoiler material, so you might want to close your eyes for a line or two For instance, she leaves her satellite phone in stowed luggage rather than with her carry on materials Any guesses what happens Yep Not only does she lose her sat phone when the airline mislays her luggage on arrival in Brazil, she then proceeds to lose all her new belongings once again when she arrives at her up river destination There is a much bigger error in judgment that happens near the end but I will spare you that one Suffice it to say that it makes one shake one s head and mutter Schmuck I understand that the sequential loss of property is a mechanism for stripping the character down to her core, but if our identification with the searcher is undermined, what is left A fair bit actually What I most enjoyed were the echoes of Joseph Conrad and other classical references to be found here Conrad s book had a lot to do with the relationship between the western and third worlds Marina is herself the embodiment of such diversity, being the product of an Indian as in South Asian, not Native American father and a Caucasian American mother The Congo that Conrad wrote of was a source of natural resources for European colonialists In this contemporary version, it is the potential for pharmacological resources to be found in ia that the West is looking to exploit I cannot cite a page number but I am pretty sure there was purple smoke wafting about, which summoned for me an element of Coppola s cinematic interpretation of Conrad And Minnesota offers an image of coldness to contrast with the heat of the Brazilian jungle.In the quest for self discovery, a Campbell ian hero ventures from his her quotidian home, in this case Eden Prairie, where Vogel Pharmaceuticals is ironically located, to a place of supernatural power, slays a dragon, literally or figuratively, thus gaining power, and boogies on home, enlarged Patchett has some fun with this, naming the company s Brazilian guide Milton, for example A young native character is Easter, which must have something to do with sacrifice and return, ya think Marina understood that in life a person was only allowed one trip down to hellThat she attends an opera of Orpheus and Eurydice reinforces this What might be thought of as a tree of knowledge shows up as well Considering the stripping of her externalities that came before, it seems pretty clear that someone is being reborn He walked her into the water up to their knees and then up to their waists It was like a bath, silky and warm The current was so slight it barely disturbed her clothes She wanted to lie down in it Milton dipped his own handkerchief into the water and spread it wet over the top of her head It s better, isn t it, he said, though it wasn t a question A harpy eagle, reminiscent of the harpies of mythology, puts in an appearance, toting a soul to Hades, no doubt In fact, birds show up a fair bit The pharmaceutical company in question is called Vogel, German for bird A large white bird, a jaribu stork, flaps through In Egyptian mythology, this bird is associated with the soul of the dead communicating with the living Feathered friends pop up a fewtimes, but I did not catch any obvious or easily researchable references from them Marina is seen in avian plumage as well she was unsteady in her shoes, which, along with the ridiculous dress, made her the human equivalent of a bird with a broken wing to any predator who might be out trawling the streets late at night The color purple, the color, not the story, turns up several times This is usually associated with either royalty or spirituality I am going with the latter here OK, OK I know I tend to go overboard with such things, and it is always possible, likely even, that the author did not intend all these references But just in case.Finally hope as a theme comes into play The core of the jungle research is a fertility drug What could symbolize hopethan that The dead researcher s wife charges Marina with the task of finding out just what happened to her late husband She harbors faint hope that he might still be alive Swenson s dedication to her work, and to keeping the corporate suits at bay, is based on hope for a great scientific breakthrough Marina gains some hope of redemption On the other hand Hope is a horrible thing, you know I don t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it s not It s a plague Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody keeps pulling and pulling it But then Had they not been so hopeful Marina s parents and guileless her birth would have been impossible.Maybe things in Patchett s tale are not quite so dark as in Coppola s bleak vision, or as in Conrad s Some light does seep through State of Wonder can feel slow maybe like a journey up river but while the story takes a long time to get where it is going, it is an enjoyable read, particularly if you like playing literary treasure hunt, as I do There is content to be had, questions raised, moral dilemmas to be resolved, and some bio tech issues to consider This is a thoughtful and interesting read EXTRA STUFF Links to the author s personal, Twitter, Instagram, and FB pagesAside from the personal link, all others center on her bookstore, Parnassus Books I thought that Ann Patchett had made her great contribution to literature with Bel Canto, which seemed to me to be the perfect novel, and stays high on the list of my very favorites It is the book that I sold by hand as a bookseller and the book that I still pass along to friends I should keep a stack of them since I have handed mine off so many times that I never know if I have a copy or not The book is a jewel box of structure, character, and language that left me overwhelmed with admiration Since reading that book, I have read Patchett s other books and enjoyed them all, particularly Run, but never again have I had that out of body, transcendent reading experience until now State of Wonder is absolutely mind boggling good I have just finished it in a straight reading jag that thankfully fell when the kids were out of town with my husband for the weekend otherwise, I am afraid that it would have been bad mommy mac and cheese and a cartoon movie in order to carve out the reading time I needed I don t want to give anything away, except to say that this is Heart of Darkness recast in contemporary Brazil, and Patchett s heroine, who goes into the forest on a mission and finds herself tested at every point, is beautifully rendered I dare any reader to put the book down during the final fifty pages It is a fantastic, inevitable ending that I never saw coming. This novel was just what I ve been looking for this summer a dazzling story, a meaty pile of ethical questions, characters that endure long after the book is over, and prose that getsbeautiful theyou notice it I didn t love the novel s end it was a bit too rushed for me, and the sudden pile on of action left me wantingof the slow build up that carried us to the climax It occurs to me, though, that wantingof a book is as good a sign as any that it won me over completely Apparently I have a thing for matriarchal Heart of Darkness scenarios. This marks the third time that I have dipped into the writing pool of Ann Patchett and let me tell you, she does not disappoint Dr Marina Singh embarks on a trip to Brazil in an effort to determine two things What happened to her colleague, who had died there scant weeks ago and what kind of progress was being made by her former mentor in the development of a new fertility drug that was being funded by her pharmaceutical company Both of these tasks prove to be most complex and difficult to acheive Her former mentor s work is at the center of her journey and involves a little known tribe of people whose ability to procreate extends well into their seventies and proves to be as closely linked to their life s rituals as the environment in which they live Patchett is such a fine writer that you become an unseen guest on this quest into therain forest Encounters with cannibals, poison arrows, humongous anacondas, pyschedelic fungi and the ever incessant, insect infested jungle OH MY This one left me in a State of Wonder. State of Wonder was such a great story, one I was hooked on right from the beginning Marina Singh, a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company, Vogel, in Minnesota, is sent down to the jungle of Brazil to find out what happened in the death of her close co worker, Anders He had previously traveled there to check on the progress of a doctor whose research regarding fertility drugs is being funded by Vogel This doctor, Dr Swenson, also happens to be one of Marina s former professors The details provided via mail regarding Ander s death are minimal and the tightly knit crew working in Brazil with Dr Swenson are hardly forthcoming when Marina arrivesA truly open mind is a scientist s greatest asset The descriptions of thethroughout the story are rich and vivid I liked Marina as a character almost instantly She was thoughtful and caring, detailed and smart I found the story itself to be interesting and also have to admire how Ann Patchett has once again, created an unusual yet believable and captivating book She has certainly mastered the skill of storytelling Of the 4 Patchett books I ve read so far, State of Wonder is easily my second favorite after Commonwealth. After all the rave reviews, my expectations were high But this is no Bel Canto The infuriatingly hapless heroine does not look ahead to scout out minor everyone knows to pack some necessities in carry on luggage, including cell phone or major consequences of her actions and is locked in past failures and losses one grows tired of her lost father nightmares and all her screaming One could also hope for subtler symbolism and metaphors, less stilted dialogue,skillful writing For example, the plot mires down in Manaus with minutiae of daily discomforts and too many days of waiting In contrast, once Marina arrives in the jungle, we would actually likeminutiae about the basics of living there.Frivolous notes I heard Patchett on a local radio show she sounds like someone who is a lot of fun and a good friend and she described naming two characters for a Nashville couple who bought the opportunity to have Patchett name characters for them at a charity auction Hence, we get the name Bovender Patchett described the real life Bovenders as generous arts patrons and wonderful people She did not go on to share that another couple in this novel are named for beloved Nashvillians, Nancy and Alan Saturn Nancy owned one of the country s best craft shops and she and Alan were huge supporters of the arts, including Sinking Creek Film Festival Patchett is married to a physician, Karl VanDefender, who I ll bet is the son of my daughter s first pediatrician, who had that last name she was born in Nashville.It says something that my paragraph about personal details is longer than my paragraph about the novel Bottom line I d love to enjoy a dinner party with Patchett and her husband, but I wantedfrom this novel. Alas, I did not reach a state of wonder reading this I would say I was in State s of Interest, Appreciation, Mild Irritation, Interest Modified by Moments of Irritation, Shock, and then Milder Shock that dwindled into a State of General Annoyance, which would possibly make it the longest book title in history.A super summary Although she trained as an OB GYN doctor, Marina is working in service of evil a pharmaceutical drug researcher who has studied cholesterol for the past seven years with her co researcher, Anders Eckman For those of you not familiar with the pharmaceutical industry, let me give you the subtext this product is about making money Marina has gone from supporting the growth of life and healing to outright capitalism Anders had been sent to remote Brazil to check in on a study the company is funding, searching for the source of a remote indigenous group s surprising fertility Coincidentally, the head researcher is Marina s former supervising doctor before she dropped out of the OB GYN program One day, the head researcher, Dr Swenson, sends an note saying Eckman has died, and Mr Fox, who Marina calls Mr Fox despite having an affair with him, sends Marina to Brazil to investigate.Marina s a product of both Indian and Minnesotian Norweigian heritage, and part of State of Wonder seems to be about her reconciling her life I say part, because while she is suffering from anti malaria drug dreams, she usually dreams about her Indian father and not the white mother who raised her The history never quite makes the jump from dreamland to reality, however, and only emphasizes the extent to which she is disconnected from her own life The thought of meeting Dr Swenson again also brings up lingering conflict about her medical residency in obstetrics, and her decision to leave the program.Apparently, the overall story themes bear some parallels with Joseph Conrad s Heart of Darkness, which I have not read Perhaps then this book would have resonatedBut do we really need a feminine re interpretation and modernization of man goes to heart of Africa novel It s rather an obnoxious premise journeying to the wilderness to find the source of female fecundity Um Is it possible to be less literal about the journey to discover self the heart of female mystery I was half expecting the imperialist overtones, so to have a narrator who hails from multiple ethnic backgrounds was an interesting twist It felt a little like a crutch, however, to have her hail from Minnesota and raised by her white mother as if then Patchett could draw on her own voice and not develop the voice of someone who moves between multiple cultures It reminded me quite a bit of Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible in that people who identify with American dominant culture are transplanted to the most remote place possible and set up to interact with primitive cultures Understand, I m in no way calling the other cultures primitive, just that the culture clash is set up as two extremes from an imperialist perspective.I do enjoy Patchett s prose, which is what ultimately saved this book The first paragraph begins with an Aerogram, and anyone who has used it can identify with the description of a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world I was particularly moved when Marina wanted to dog to stay as they broke the news of Anders death to his wife I like dogs, Marina said, thinking it was vital that he stay The dog would have to stand in for their minister if they had one The dog would be Karen s mother, her sister, whoever it was she wished was standing next to her when everything came down The dog would have to be Anders Unfortunately, her prose could not quite bring Marina to full, vivid life She drifted along a path set by other people, and persisted in lacking any agency in charting her own fate She is disconnected from herself and her world, making it hard for the reader to care about her Further, as someone who is deeply immersed in medical culture, I didn t feel she represented or conveyed the voice of someone who invests in medical school to become an OB GYN She lacks passion for people, a commitment to her community and a drive to succeed As a character, we have very little information on how she spends time besides her work in the lab Dr Swenson, on the other hand, is a dynamic force of a person, directing, orchestrating, manipulating She is a farinteresting person, even though she is not particularly likeable.What ultimately decreased my rating was the ending Marina spends pages and pages getting to Brazil, pages and pages waiting in the city, Manaus, and then some time acclimating to the jungle, but in the last 25 pages, Marina makes a major discovery and two extremely significant events occur that will reverberate throughout many lives After the slow build, it was shocking though it technically resolves plot points, it was an emotional cliffhanger of an ending that seemed remarkably incongruous with the character development we had.I ve enjoyed Patchett s other books, specifically Bel Canto and The Magician s Assistant, so I won t take Patchett off my authors to watch list Two and a half star read.Cross posted at It s been seven years since I first read State of Wonder, and the novel is evenluminous than I remembered Ann Patchett is one of my veryveryvery favorite writers, and rereading her books is such a joy.The story follows Dr Marina Singh, who is tasked with going to theto learn what happened to a colleague who died while working on a new drug Singh s journey is both perilous and emotional, and this reader was captivated all over again by her adventure.If you like beautiful writing, descriptive storytelling and characters who are so real you feel like you would recognize them on the street, you should get yourself an Ann Patchett book Highly recommended for anyone who loves literary fiction.Opening Passage 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 envelope 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.