Book Review: “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett


Title:  State of Wonder

Author:  Ann Patchett

Synopsis (from

Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina’s assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s future, and her own past.

Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher’s expectations.

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.

My thoughts:  I’m just really not sure what to say about this book.  I know if my book club would not have chosen this, I probably never would have read it . . . which I think more and more would have been a good thing.   After hearing people absolutely rave about Patchett’s Bel Canto, I was actually looking forward to reading State of Wonder for any  number of reasons.  First, I thought after the critical acclaim of Bel Canto, this author must be fantastic.  Second, I was excited by the synopsis and plot of a medical mystery set in the Amazon rainforest.  It seemed intriguing and exciting.

Then the overall premise of the book the further I read along, just got strange . . . like almost science fiction strange.  I won’t say anymore in case you haven’t read it, but I just couldn’t get past how truly weird it was.

As I was already questionable about the book, I happened across an online article having Patchett describe her book.  Perhaps it was just a bad day, but I ended up being ticked off and feeling slighted by the author as it seemed her motivation to write the book was just lacking a bit . . . apparently she had a similar incident as one described in the book in her life and kind of just went with it?  What?  And the name of the fictional tribe she has in the book, Lakashi, she named after her favorite cereal, Kashi.  What?

Overall, just not impressed on any level.

I think it was simply not a good introduction of the work of Ann Patchett for me.  I don’t feel this is good book to start with.  I am hopeful that if I read Bel Canto I will be much more impressed.

And remember,

Books Are Life,



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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction

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