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122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult at first, but overall excellent
I found this review quite difficult to write, much as I found parts of the book hard to read. The strange thing is that I'm not sure why I struggled so much with the beginning of this book.

I have read Ann Patchett's famous 'Bel Canto', which I thoroughly enjoyed although I was a little frustrated by the ending. Yet State of Wonder was exactly the opposite. I...
Published on 1 July 2011 by EL

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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Soft-centred Heart of Darkness
The reputation of the award-winning "Bel Canto" inspired me to read this novel.

The theme is promising. Marina, a doctor turned researcher for Vogel, a US pharmaceuticals manufacturer, is sent to Brazil to persuade the eccentric Dr. Svenson to submit details of her progress on what could be an important new fertility drug, based on studies with the remote...
Published on 9 Dec 2011 by Antenna


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122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult at first, but overall excellent, 1 July 2011
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Hardcover)
I found this review quite difficult to write, much as I found parts of the book hard to read. The strange thing is that I'm not sure why I struggled so much with the beginning of this book.

I have read Ann Patchett's famous 'Bel Canto', which I thoroughly enjoyed although I was a little frustrated by the ending. Yet State of Wonder was exactly the opposite. I have seen so many glowing reviews of it over the last few weeks, many of which were by readers whose advice I almost always take. Everyone, it seems, loves this book. So when I picked it up I had high expectations and was looking forward to getting sucked into the world of the Brazilian jungle. Fifty pages later I was getting frustrated, and it felt as though the book was still going nowhere fast.

Although it took me a few days, I persevered, simply because of all the good things I had heard about it. Then, about halfway through, something just clicked into place, and I found myself reading faster and faster as I became engrossed in the story at last. I think part of the problem is that so much of the beginning of the book is taken up by waiting. You know that Marina (the main character) is going to go to Brazil in the end, and that she is eventually going to reach the jungle. The problem is that it takes so long, and while she is bored and irritated, it is all too easy for the reader to echo her feelings. In a way this is testament to Patchett's talent at drawing you into the world of the book, but it does slow the story down.

Nevertheless, despite the disappointing opening, I am so glad that I carried on and finished State of Wonder. Why? Because the second half of the book more than makes up for the first. There is real emotion in the writing, and the characters are well-drawn and more than a little real. The interaction between scientists and members of the local tribes is fascinating, and Easter, a young deaf boy, is my favourite character by far. The story revolves partly around the science and discoveries that Marina is sent to check up on, and partly around the death of her predecessor Anders Eckman, who was her friend and colleague. She has promised his wife that she will find out exactly what happened to him, and the emotion of this storyline was what made the book all the more special.

Soon after his wife hears of his death at the beginning of the story, a letter arrives that he wrote a long time ago in the jungle, and these letters, which it becomes clear he wrote with increasing desperation as he became iller, keep surfacing due to the slow and unreliable post. These letters from a dying man to his wife and young sons at home are so poignant that it is impressive that the scientific side of the story managed to be equally compelling.

Knowing that I hadn't really liked the ending of her previous book 'Bel Canto', I was wary of how this one would end. But in fact I thought it was as close to perfect as it could possibly have been. The last quarter of this book in particular was a masterpiece, so my advice is to read this as soon as you get the chance. If you find the opening as tough as I did then please hang in there - the pace picks up later on, and it's well worth your while to continue to the end. I'm just glad that I had read all the positive reviews and had the courage of my convictions to stick at it all the way through!
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Soft-centred Heart of Darkness, 9 Dec 2011
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Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: State of Wonder (Hardcover)
The reputation of the award-winning "Bel Canto" inspired me to read this novel.

The theme is promising. Marina, a doctor turned researcher for Vogel, a US pharmaceuticals manufacturer, is sent to Brazil to persuade the eccentric Dr. Svenson to submit details of her progress on what could be an important new fertility drug, based on studies with the remote Lakashi tribe where women seem capable of childbirth well into old age. Marina has also promised to find out more about the death of Anders, the colleague who was sent on the same mission but died of a fever in the jungle.

It is soon clear that this is by design a slow-paced book focused on detailed descriptions of people's feeling and interactions, such as the painful business of telling Karen Anders that her husband has died and been buried somewhere in the depths of the Brazilian rainforest, leaving her with three young children. There is also a strong evocation of place, such as the unbearable heat of Manaus, and the vast, anonymous scale of the rainforest, teeming with unfamiliar and often hostile life, so that Marina realises she has crossed the line away from civilisation not on leaving Manaus, but when penetrating the solid line of undifferentiated trees close-packed along the banks of a remote tributary.

There are a few good scenes, as when Marina, mistaken for a native because of her half-Indian parentage, consents to dance with the locals because it is "somehow less humiliating, less disrespectful" to do this than simply to stand with the other tourists watching them.

However, by Chapter 6 I began to consider giving up, and only motivated myself to read on by analysing the deficiencies in the style: the plywood cast of minor characters, the often stilted dialogue, the wordy descriptions which at times seem either banal or do not quite ring true.

Two-thirds in, the plot picks up with a startling revelation which I failed to anticipate, and then builds up to a satisfying climax which redeems the book, despite a few flaws. In the process, it raises, although does not explore in any depth, some interesting social and ethical issues. Are the researchers exploiting the natives, or rediscovering from them a better way of living, close to nature, accepting fate in the form of the attendant risks from poisonous snakes or lack of access to medicines?

Overall verdict: interesting plot, limited, soft-centred style, inadequate to the task.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars you probably won't be able to stop reading..., 10 Aug 2011
By 
H. Lacroix (France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Hardcover)
I've just been reading scathing comments from a reviewer who both has medical knowledge and knowledge also of that part of Brazil the story is mostly set in. I can then conclude that if you are a doctor and intimate with Manaus and its surroundings you won't like "State of wonder". I have also just finished reading this novel in less than 36 hours, have no medical knowledge whatsoever and would never dream of going someplace unbearably hot and tropical where you have to cream yourself up and down in order not to be eaten alive.If you're more like me than like that other reviewer I was mentioning, then you stand a good chance of liking the book. I enjoyed it a lot, simply because from the moment I opened it I found it slightly difficult to tear myself from it. It won't be the best book you've ever read, or the most literary for that matter but it certainly knows how to hook you and not let go! Flawed it most certainly is (after all experts are experts and they say so) but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of it because I don't know enough to fault it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a "State of Wonder", 6 Nov 2012
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Paperback)
This was a wonderful novel, which does not surprise me, as I have loved her others (Bel Canto, Run), and they are all completely different in style, not at all predictable.

Despite a slightly cold beginning, I was soon transported convincingly back to Manaus, where I did once spend a short space of time. The colour, the despair, the feeling of panic and culture-shock were all depicted wonderfully.
But then the real story begins, with the journey deep into the Amazon, and it is so vividly portrayed, the characters and their relationships, and the thread of mystery running through the pages.

I was swept away, I felt I was living it myself, I stayed up til after 2am night after night reading more and more.... and when I finished the book, for a week I felt homesick for it, I was actually in mourning!

I promptly bought a copy for my mother to take away on holiday, and she felt the same way, and ignored her travelling companion for the whole week!

Buy it, read it, love it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Heart of Darkness', but a far more pleasant read., 16 Sep 2012
This review is from: State of Wonder (Paperback)
Ann Patchett's novel would certainly not have been on my list had I not recently ventured to the Amazon rainforest. When I returned from South America, I travelled to my local bookshop to search for some relevant literature. I was delighted with this novel; Patchett captures the mysterious, foreboding atmosphere of the jungle superbly,which I believe is something one can only appreciate after visiting.
Having slogged my way through Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', (It's brilliant, yes, but not exactly 'light reading'), I was thrilled with this tale. There's a death. There's a large, mysterious company. There's a fantastic scientist, who's been sent to work in the Amazon. But she's gone rogue. A company representative is sent to find her. Sound familiar?
Highly recommended for those with a South American experience, and for anbody who enjoys a good mystery!
An excellent read.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The lab [in the jungle] was not unlike a Las Vegas casino. They existed there without calendar or clock.", 31 May 2011
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: State of Wonder (Hardcover)
Living in the rainforest of Brazil, a group of American researchers, working for a pharmaceutical company, is trying to complete a long research project and ready a new drug for FDA approval. The leader of the project is Dr. Annick Swenson, a tough, seventy-three-year-old woman who has not left Brazil for over a decade. Though the pharmaceutical company is paying for all the expenses, no one at the company can find out the current status of the project-the last person sent to check on it, Anders Eckman, died of fever shortly after his arrival at the lab. The company decides that someone else must return to Brazil, evaluate the progress of the research and bring back Eckman's effects. Marina Singh, who once studied with Annick Swenson and has shared an office with Anders Eckman, is the person who makes this trip.

Within this framework, Patchett creates a novel which appeals on several levels at once. The exotic setting, filled with purple moths, blue mushrooms, yellow-barked trees, and other never-before-seen plant and animal life, captures the reader's imagination, even as the main characters are fighting anacondas, medical problems such as fevers and malaria, and a tribe which shoots poison arrows. Her ability to call forth sense impressions gives vitality to the setting.

As the action evolves, the author develops her characters and themes. Death is a constant threat, and the illnesses, accidents, and animal attacks keep that theme front and center, even as the research project is supposed to be geared to saving lives. Balancing death as a theme, of course, is love. Dr. Swenson had a lover for many years. Eckmann has left behind a wife and three young children, all of whom are devastated by his absence. Marina herself loves Dr. Fox in charge of the pharmaceutical company. Several characters receive ghostly visitations from loved ones during nightmares caused by their anti-malarial drugs, or when they face imminent death. These visions add information about the characters' backgrounds and, at times, provide new directions for the plot.

Ambition, to which all the varied characters have sacrificed years of their personal lives, so dominates the lives of many characters, they often fail to come alive for the reader. Though they are individualized, they do not always feel completely human, and their motivations sometimes seem imposed from without, rather inherent in their personalities. The dialogue conveys information and background more often than it conveys inner feelings. The most life-like character is Easter, a young deaf Indian child, whose fate seems tenuous, at best. Marina Singh, also creates empathy as she faces choices that challenge her to the limit.

These are minor defects, however, in a book that is full of action and interest. Patchett raises many questions about what drives those who give up virtually everything for pure science, questioning how much is done from idealism, how much from naivete, and how much for personal gain. The action speeds along on the strength of a fast-paced narrative full of suspense: What really happened to Dr. Anders Eckman? What is the nature of the drug that Dr. Swenson is working so hard to protect and develop? How will it change modern life as we know it? Ultimately, Marina must make the biggest choice of her life, and I suspect that every reader of the book will weigh the issues as to whether she makes the "right" choice. Should be a popular hit this summer. Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant., 3 April 2014
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Kindle Edition)
What an amazing book. I was completely transported to the Amazon through this book - I could almost hear it and feel it! The characters are really interesting and engaging and the story keeps you hooked as well. I'm going to read more Ann Patchett now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Totally captivating, 14 Mar 2014
This review is from: State of Wonder (Kindle Edition)
I have previously read "Bel Canto", the Orange Prize winning novel by Ann Patchett, but can't remember anything about it bar the cover. I therefore picked up "State of Wonder" with a relatively open mind. It took me a little while to get into this novel about a group of scientists: one disappears, one is sent to find him and the other is trying hard not to be found. However, the writing is totally captivating and in that way the novel is easy to read. I found the last 100 pages to be by far the most compelling and by that point I was utterly engrossed in this world. The ending was unexpected and I do love a good twist ending!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not sure, 7 Jan 2014
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Kindle Edition)
I am not sure what the purpose of this story is. Wouldn't recommend it just because of that. Bit disappointed as I had read so many positive reviews of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book, 5 Oct 2013
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This review is from: State of Wonder (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I felt part of the story and really felt the dawning of understanding of one of the main characters in the jungle. I didn't want the book to end but now it has I'm definately going to read another title by this author.
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State of Wonder
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Paperback - 26 April 2012)
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