State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

 I didn’t know much about Ann Patchett until I was given this book about 2 weeks ago. I literally walked right by ‘ State of Wonder’  at the store, because the title did nothing for  me – you know how we sometimes stop by a book just because the title catches the eye, mmm, there was none of that.  It was the sort of book I meant to put down and read when nothing else interested me, but a reader’s instinct told me to stick with it…

I began a very skeptical reading, but as I read, the character of Marina Singh really began to grab  a hold of my senses. She appealed to me in a very ordinary manner, but there was a side-story to her that I kept weaving in my head –  it was like she was mysterious and her past with her father was about to reveal something dramatic. As I kept reading,  somehow the author kept my interest going.   I start to find out that her closest friend and colleague has disappeared; died, all of a sudden in the depths of the Amazonian jungle, from a fever. It is revealed no less than in a brief, almost emotionless letter by  none other than Marina’s former mentor Dr Annik Swenson, who is now on the Vogel ( pharmaceutical company Marina works for, she also dates its boss, a man that is vaguely introduced as Fox or Mr Fox) pay roll. So far a very ordinary story… Upon going with Fox to break the horrid news to her friend’s wife and having to do it herself, thereby also having to deal with the consequences of sending him on such a perilous journey, Marina and Karen become friends in some strange way because she feels for Karen and the three children Anders ( the colleague) has left behind. Also, rather strangely, these cryptic and painful letters keep arriving from Anders  where his voice clearly reveals he is suffering from Malaria or some other deathly illness. It is very quickly mentioned that a simple letter from the jungle has no guarantee of ever reaching its destination, hence the delay in receiving timely correspondence. Karen asks or plays on Marina’s emotions and sort of persuades her to  travel to Brazil on her behalf and really truly delve into the death of her husband for she is the only one who knows something about the elusive Annik Swenson. Meanwhile Marina undergoes  a similar sort of persuasion by her boyfriend/boss and as resentful as Marina is about it all,  she is somewhat heartened by Fox’s revelation of some emotion about her taking this trip, predictably though,  he appears to have selfish motives.  In the midst of all of this, that side-story I kept expecting, begins to reveal little bits about Marina, her life, her relationship with her father, her choice to leave the field of obstetrics and  join Vogel and her never-ending nightmares that draw her to the edge of suffering and leaves her screaming loud gasping sounds, scaring anyone and everyone within a 5 mile radius. She has the same nightmare or something akin to it every time, although we are told the cause of it, I felt the author could have explained more. Marina  meets a slew of interesting supporting characters i.e. the Australian Bovenders who ferociously guard Dr Swenson’s privacy, um, they left me wondering why they were in the book as a sort of by-the way couple.. Milton, who seems to have her best interests at heart, Roderigo who provides her with clothes since she loses her luggage, and of course the Lakashi tribe itself with their touchy-feely ways and the ability to get pregnant even at the age of 70. However, no one appealed to me as much as Dr Swenson and the little boy that accompanies her everywhere. His sweet relationship with Marina was too short in my opinion, once again,  I wanted to know more.  Dr Swenson is enigmatic, controlling, and reveals more secrets than you can bear. The action piles on in the middle of the book and the end seems rushed, not nearly the climax I was hoping for.  The build up was good though, and the jungle reveals quite a bit more than the expected disease ridden insects, mosquitoes, a cure for malaria and the tribe’s adjustment to a slight modernization. There is some adventure and intrigue, so read it! It’s not bad at all…

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2 thoughts on “State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

  1. I bought this book because I saw you were reading it, so am looking forward to starting it. The travel into the jungle, tribes, adventure reminds me of ‘The Poinsonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver (have you read it?); although this one is about a missionary family that moves to the Congo – kind of like ‘Heart of Darkness’. ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ is epic – quite a tome – but very readable and engaging – you might like it after this one. Thanks for the review – will let you know how it goes 🙂

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    • I have to say, The Poisonwood Bible is one book, I did not like, although I did read it to the end. Barbara Kingslover is not an author I enjoy at all, funny huh? I normally give anyone and everyone a go – know what I mean? I read a couple of her other books and I think ‘Poisonwood Bible’ spoiled my enjoyment. I can’t wait to hear what you think about ‘State of Wonder.’ I feel as though I was gyped out of a proper ending.. 🙂 so tell me as soon as you’ve finished with the book.

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