Book Review: State of Wonder — Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Feeling the bite of winter? Journey into the sweltering heat of the Amazonian rainforest in Ann Patchett’s provocative novel, State of Wonder.  The book follows the journey of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher who is sent to the Amazon in search of a lost (and presumed dead) colleague, as well as the truth behind mystery of his death. The chaos and heat of the jungle setting is bookended by the quiet and cold of a Minnesota winter.

The book is a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s much-adapted novella Heart of Darkness. Instead of a a European male journeying deeper into colonial Africa along the Congo River, Patchett’s novel follows an Indian-American woman who travels the Amazon River. The charismatic center of Patchett’s novel is a brilliant scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson. The story, as in Conrad’s book, provides commentary on colonialism and the loss of innocence.

As an English teacher who has taught Conrad’s book many times, I relished the parallels with his novel. What I found most striking about this book, however, was how woman-centered this book was. This is a book about the female body, about fertility, about birth and its horrors and its wonders. Women are the heroes here, as well as the victims.

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