State of Wonder Ann Patchett
Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
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.
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. (Issued by publisher.)
Reading Group Discussion Questions
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?
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.
16. What is the significance of the novel’s title, State of Wonder?
(Issued by publisher.)
Barnes & Noble
LibraryAdams County Library System
Arapahoe Library District
Aurora Public Library
Boulder Public Library
Denver Public Library
Douglas County Public Library
Jefferson County Public Library
City of Louisville Public Library
Other Works by Ann PatchettNOVELS:
The Patron Saint of Liars (1992)
The Magician's Assistant (1997)
Bel Canto (2001)
Truth & Beauty: A Friendship (2004)
What Now? (2008)
If You Liked State of Wonder, may we recommend …
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann
The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Remote People, by Evelyn Waugh
A Burnt-Out Case, by Graham Greene
A Bend In The River, VS Naipaul
The Lower River, by Paul Theroux
Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
Cutting for Stone: A Novel, by Abraham Verghese
FIVE OF ANN’S FAVORITE BOOKS, AS TOLD TO THE DAILY BEAST IN 2011:
Act One, by Moss Hart
A Perfect Spy, by John le Carré
The All Of It, by Jeannette Haien
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes
Links of Interest for Your Book Club Discussion
Publisher’s author page
New York Times article by Ann Patchett, “And the Winner Isn’t ...”
Ann Patchett with Stephen Colbert
Wall Street Journal article by Ann Patchett, “Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women?”
Parnassus Books: Ann’s Independent Bookstore in Nashville
NPR: “Ann Patchett Journeys To The Amazon With 'Wonder’”
Reviews of State of Wonder
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
Reader reviews at Goodreads.com
Enrich Your Book Club’s ExperienceTHE SOUTH AMERICAN WAY
Set the mood for your State of Wonder book club by bringing the sounds and smells of South America right into your living room. Have traditional Brazilian music like the samba, the zouk-lambada, or the bossa nova playing as your guests arrive. Or, have the sounds of the Brazilian rainforest underscore your evening. There are so many ways to bring the rich world of South America to your book club, but (as always) we’re big fans of satisfying the senses with flavorful and aromatic food!
ACARAJÉ are a popular street food snack in Brazil, especially at the beach. Black-eyed peas, seasoned with ground dried shrimp and onions, are shaped into balls and deep fried in palm oil, then split and filled with a spicy shrimp and onion filling. In this version of the recipe, the cooked fritter is split and then filled with fresh shrimp and caramelized onions.
Ingredients:For the Filling:
1 cup small shrimp, fresh or frozen, shelled and de-veined
2 tablespoons palm oil or olive oil For the Fritters:
2 cans black-eyed peas
1 clove of garlic
1 red chili pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Palm oil and/or vegetable oil for frying Preparation:
1. Make filling: Slice onion very thinly. Spread onions out on a skillet with the olive oil or palm oil, and cook on low heat until they are golden brown (about 15 minutes). Add shrimp and sauté until shrimp are pink. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
2. Make the fritters: Thoroughly drain the black-eyed peas and place them in the food processor. Roughly chop the onion and garlic, and add it to the peas.
3. Clean the pepper of seeds and add to the processor.
4. Process mixture just until well-blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add flour by the tablespoon, until mixture is stiff enough to hold a shape. Divide into 15 pieces, and form into balls or ovals.
6. Heat 2 inches palm oil and/or vegetable oil in a pot on medium high heat. Fry several fritters at a time until browned, turning once, about 5 minutes. Drain fritters on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Fritters can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven.
7. Split fritters and fill with a spoonful of the onion and shrimp mixture. Serve warm.