Contented Reader

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State of Wonder

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State of Wonder

Ann Patchett




I’m not sure what I was expecting, when the book club voted on this book.  I didn’t vote for State of Wonder.  I voted for The Room, which I still haven’t read.  I knew that Ann Patchett was a popular literary author, and I vaguely remembered liking Bel Canto, but didn’t remember anything specific about it.  Whatever I was expecting, it was more along the lines of ‘give the book an open-minded try, and try to find something to like about it,’ not ‘get so involved in the book that reading it feels like living a parallel life.’

It didn’t take very many chapters before I was truly immersed in State of Wonder.  I think it was around the time when the narrator, Marina, arrived in the Amazon to search for the strong and stubborn Dr. Swenson, deeply immersed in the life of a little-known tribe where women remain fertile all their lives.  I won’t say that was when I started to like the book, because “like” seems like the wrong word.  I became involved in the book.  I tend to rush through books, eager to find out what happens, eager to get to the end, but I didn’t rush through this one.  I felt like I was traveling the Amazon myself, on a pontoon on the river, slowly moving toward unknown people with unknown lives.  I felt lost in the languid dream of a steaming tropical river.

There are secrets in this book, secrets that slowly unfold themselves, surprisingly and yet at their own pace, like the unfolding of tropical flowers.  What is the secret of fertility known to the Lakasha, and can it be turned into a drug to be marketed in the West?  What were the circumstances behind the death of Anders Eckman?  How deeply is Marina affected by the disturbed dreams brought on by malaria preventatives?  Does anyone ever really leave the jungle?  But ultimately, the secrets seem less important to me than having had the experience of living for a few days in this remote place, affected by the modern world and yet so far removed from it.  I read a novel, but I feel like I’ve been on a journey.

This book gave me strange dreams.

I don’t know what I’ll talk about in the book group.  I might talk about what we gain from our lives in civilization, and what we lose.  Or about how corporations, in their rush for profits, miss much of what is truly significant in their own work.  Or about whether the ability to have a child at seventy is really a dream, or a nightmare.  Those are good ‘discussion topics.’  But I’ll be thinking about the trees, the mushrooms, and the river, which I am not sure how to discuss but which will stay with me, I think, for some time.

Written by Contented Reader

October 5, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Reviews


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