Friday, August 31, 2012

State of Wonder: review

Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: contemporary adult, Amazon, adventure
Rating: 4.5 stars
Source: bought
Summary: Award-winning "New York Times"-bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant) returns with a provocative novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest--a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, 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. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy

The only other book I've read by Ann Patchett is Bel Canto, which is still on my all-time-favorites list. Her beautiful writing sucked me right in to that tragic story and now she did it once again with State of Wonder. I was a little late on reading it; I bought it on her paperback-release tour I believe. And even thought it's a great story, I still like Bel Canto better. I do have a bit to say about it, the goods and bads.

After hearing Ann Patchett talk when she stopped at my bookstore a couple months ago, I was glad to have heard all about State of Wonder before reading it, because she told some cool back stories to characters and events, relating it to her own adventures in the Amazon, and that made the reading much more interesting.

My favorite characters had to be the Bovenders. I think anyone who has met them would agree with me. The tall Australians who acted as the guards for Dr. Swenson; keeping the press out of her business, or distracting whoever came from Vogel to ask about the research progression--yeah they are hilarious. They're the characters with a cool back story, which you can read HERE. It's way near the bottom, but it's a really funny story not to miss, even if you don't plan on reading State of Wonder. The only thing about the couple, Barbara and Jackie, is that I wish they had a bigger part, especially in the second half of the novel. She kind of left you hanging with how they ended up. (I mean, they didn't almost die but some goodbye closure with Marina would have been nice.)

I've read a large handful of reviews that mention how Marina, the protagonist, is sort of annoying and has this dark, rather exaggerated past relating to the abandonment of her father. So I became wary when starting the book, but I soon made my own opinion that although it's more prominent in first half of the story, her past doesn't really overcome the plot in any way not necessary. I wouldn't worry about it too much. Marina isn't my favorite character in the world, and she makes some pretty disagreeable choices, but she does the best she can, for being sent to the Amazon most unwillingly.

Easter really pulled my heartstrings. The little deaf boy had so much expression, and a mysterious past, that he just attaches himself to you. Though, I really didn't like how his story ended, even though it made sense. Also, I totally thought Martin would have a bigger part in relating to Marina, and he kind of randomly disappears at the end. Now that I think of it, the ending to this book is pretty open as a whole. Like, wide open. I'm not sure I like that yet.

Dr. Swenson is in the middle of the Amazonian nowhere because of a research for a possible vaccine for malaria, and also to study that in this tribe, the Lakashi, women can and do have children well into their seventies. Now I'm not interested in anything pharmaceutical or the fertility stats of foreign races, but the way it's set up and that it's the plot of the book, totally had me engrossed in both of the subjects.

The dynamic relationship between Dr. Marina Singh and Dr. Swenson is really well done. It's the kind of awkward relationship where the teacher made a huge impact on the student's life, and now years later the teacher doesn't even remember her at all. I could relate in some sense, and I liked that unusual connection between the main characters, and it made me really not like Dr. Swenson at all. Or maybe I didn't like her in the first place because she isn't the very friendly personality. Her life is devoted to her work, and she loves it and hates it at the same time.

The writing is as pretty as ever, and there are pages of descriptions that I just wanted to write down to remember. She managed to make me feel as if I were in the Amazon along with Marina and co. which in turn made me paranoid of invisible bug bites a lot of the time. It sure was an adventure, and I as much as I love to travel, the Amazon is way down on my list for that reason, the bugs. They invaded the paragraphs everywhere. Saying things like, 'he reached up to swat a sort of long legged cricket out of his hair while talking.' and 'she brushed the back of her neck, careful not to smash the hard shelled creature further into her skin.' *shivers* Small mosquitoes are enough to drive me inside, and those aren't even infected with malaria.

I would definitely recommend State of Wonder to most people I know more easily than I would Bel Canto because this is more of a relatable novel to the average person, and a little less complex and therefore easier to understand. Though, I still love Bel Canto the best.


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