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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett



State-Wonder-by-Ann-Patchett State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Research scientist Dr. Marina Singh is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have disappeared in the Amazon while working on an extremely valuable new drug. The last person who was sent to find her died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding answers to the questions about her friend’s death, her company’s future, and her own past.

Once found, Dr. Swenson is as imperious and uncompromising as ever. 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.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. .

Harper; 1st edition (June 7, 2011)


Book Club Ideas

Decorations

The main setting for State of Wonderis the Amazon rainforest. Decorating ideas could include exotic flowers, ferns, bowls of tropical fruit as a table arrangement, a green tablecloth or several yards of jungle print fabric.

If you like to go all out, you can create your own little mini rainforest with twisted brown paper bag vines, green craft paper jungle tree leaves, and brown craft paper monkeys. You can include colorful construction paper parrots and frogs, as well.

Monkeys and Vines

Music

While I was reading State of Wonder, I listened to the Amazon rain forest on my travel sound machine.  An mp3 alternative is A Month In The Brazilian Rainforest.


Book Club Menu

Set deep in the Amazon rainforest tropical fruits and nuts should be included on your menu. You could also introduce your guests to some Brazilian food. I found inspiration from several websites: sonia-portuguese.com, southamericanfood.about.com, and world-recipes.info.

Fried Rice Fritters (Bolinhos de Arroz) are a popular Brazilian street food.  Crunchy on the outside, soft, savory rice on the inside.

Rice Fritters

These Hearts of Palm Empanadas were devoured by my family when I prepared them. Very delicious.

Hearts of Palm Empanadas

I found that many of the ingredients popular in Brazilian food are also popular in many Central African dishes, as in this Exotic Fruit Salad, which includes peanuts, mint, and avocado. I omitted the dressing called for in this recipe, and drizzled sweetened condensed milk over the fruit for a Brazilian twist. Delicious!

African Fruit Salad

Wow your guests with a cute little monkey cake. This Wilton Monkey Shaped Pan can be found at Amazon.com. The pan comes with easy to follow decorating tips! It was a snap to make this little monkey.

Monkey Cake


Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.84 stars (119,45 ratings)
Amazon: 3.9 stars (1,600 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.89 stars (1,560 ratings)
My Rating: 4.5 stars State of Wonder is lush and beautiful and simply amazing. I could not put the novel down and the ending was stupendous!

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. How would you describe Marina Singh? How has the past shaped her character? Discuss the anxieties that are manifested in her dreams.
2. “Marina was from Minnesota. No one ever believed that. At the point when she could have taken a job anywhere she came back because she loved it here. This landscape was the one she understood, all prairie and sky.” What does this description say about the character?
3. Talk about Marina’s relationship with her boss, Mr. Fox. Would you call what they share love? Do they have a future? Why does he want Marina to go to the Amazon? What propels her to agree?
4. What drew Marina to her old mentor, Annik Swenson? Compare and contrast the two women. How does Annick see Marina? Barbara Bovender, one of Annik’s caretakers/gatekeepers tells Marina, “She’s such a force of nature. . . . a woman completely fearless, someone who sees the world without limitations.” Is this a fair assessment of Annik? How would you describe her? How has the elderly doctor’s past shaped the person she is and the choices she has made?
5. Describe the arc of Marina and Annik’s relationship from the novel’s beginning to its end. Do you like these women? Did your opinion of them change as the story unfolded? Why didn’t Marina ever tell anyone the full story of her early experience with Annick? Read more . . .


6. Consider Annik’s research in the Amazon. Should women of any age be able to have children? What are the benefits and the downsides? Why does this ability seem to work in the Lakashi culture? What impact does this research ultimately have on Marina? Whether you are a man or woman, would you want to have a child in your fifties or sixties? How far should modern science go to “improve” on nature?
7. In talking about her experiences with the indigenous people, Annik explains, “the question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you; or if you choose to go on as if you had never arrived. “ How does Marina respond to this? Did Annik practice what she preached? How do these women’s early choices impact later events and decisions? How does Annik’s statement extend beyond the Amazon to the wider world? Would you rather make a “disturbance” in life, or go along quietly?
8. Talk about the Lakashi people and the researchers. How do they get along? Though the scientists try not to interfere with the natives’ way of life, how does their being there impact the Lakashi? What influence do the Lakashi have on the scientists?
9. Would you be able to live in the jungle as the researchers and natives do? Is there an appeal to going back to nature; from being removed from the western constraints of time and our modern technological society?
10. What role does nature and the natural world—the jungle, the Amazon River—play in Marina’s story? How does the environment influence the characters—Marina, Annik, Milton, Anders, Easter, and the others? Annik warns Marina, “It’s difficult to trust yourself in the jungle. Some people gain their bearings over time but for others that adjustment never comes.” Did Marina ultimately “gain her bearings”?
11. Marina travels into hell, into her own Conradian “heart of darkness.” What keeps her in the jungle longer than she’d ever thought she’d stay? How does this journey transform her and her view of herself and the world? Will she ever return—and does she need to?
12. What is your opinion of the choices Marina made regarding Easter? What role did the boy play in the story? Do you think Marina will ever have the child—one like Easter—that she wants?
13. What do you think happens to Marina after she returns home?
14. State of Wonder is rich in symbolism. Identify a few—for example, Eden Prairie (Marina’s Minnesota home), Easter (the young deaf native boy), Milton (the Brazilian guide)—and talk about how Ann Patchett uses them to deepen the story.
15. State of Wonder raises questions of morality and principle, civilization, culture, love, and science. Choose a few events from the book to explore some of these themes.
(Discussion Questions from HarperCollins)


Purchase State of Wonder at your favorite bookseller

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The Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles. She received her BA in Education at Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA from the University of Iowa.
Awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship, 1995; PEN/Faulkner Award, 2002; Orange Prize, 2002

Other Works by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for State of Wonder? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

 



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