JourneyWoman Book Club: “State of Wonder” Takes You to the Amazon Rainforest (Brazil)

by | Nov 2, 2020

Amazon River, Brazil
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Last updated on November 19th, 2023

About this Book

By Carolyn Ray

BRAZIL –Your book club co-hosts, Wendy and Carolyn, invite you to join us for a facilitated discussion about ‘State of Wonder’, by Ann Patchett. Her sixth novel, it’s a riveting variation on the journey from darkness to light.

Set deep in the Amazon jungle, this novel traces the steps of 42-year-old Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmacologist at the Vogel Pharmaceutical Company in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who 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.

Our book club operates on a Pay-What-You-Can model, where we make a donation to a non-profit organization that is meaningful to the guest speaker. We thank you for your generosity and kindness. 

Our Take on this Novel 

This is a complex book, with many twists and turns that keep you engaged. For me (Carolyn) it had a bit of a slow start, with a lot of contextual information, but once Marina embraces life in the jungle, it gets more interesting. In our book club discussion, we observed how the author’s life has shaped this story. Her relationship with teachers, mentors and authority figures. Many of our book club participants have read her other books, and I’ve got the Dutch House ready to go! We also loved Ann’s writing. It felt so real, so authentic. 

Carolyn and Wendy, your book club hosts 

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State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

DECEMBER 16, 2020, 8 PM ET 

Recommended by: Dee
Published in: 2011
Country: Brazil 

Abstract: “Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett’s fiction.”—New York Times Book Review.

State of Wonder, the story of pharmacologist Marina Singh, who journeys to Brazil to bring back information about seemingly miraculous drug research being conducted there. New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional urgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels Bel Canto, Taft, Run, The Magician’s Assistant, and The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett


Ann Patchett (born December 2, 1963) is an American author.

She received the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction in the same year, for her novel Bel Canto. Patchett’s other novels include The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), Taft (1994), The Magician’s Assistant (1997), Run (2007), State of Wonder (2011), Commonwealth (2016), and The Dutch House (2019). The Dutch House was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

(Source: Wikipedia)

More on her website here:


“The tourists, enchanted, took pictures with their cell phones, Having been given an opportunity to shop, the white women began bartering, wanting a bracelet and a necklace for the price of the bracelet alone. One of the women handed her husband the camera and then came and stood beside Marina. “Take my picture with this one,” she said, “She’s twice the size of the rest of them.”

Wendy’s observation:  The idea that someone in your past, who has been significant in forming your ideas and opinions; we may remember them well…… but they may not remember us.

Discussion Questions

State of Wonder raises questions of morality and principle, civilization, culture, love, and science.

1. What is your favourite part or passage of the book and why?

2. What is the significance of the novel’s title, State of Wonder?

3. How would you describe Marina Singh? How has the past shaped her character? Discuss the anxieties that are manifested in her dreams. What are your feelings toward Marina? Do you have empathetic feelings toward her? Why or why not?

4. Loss is a central theme recurring throughout the book. At times it is heartbreaking, Marina’s and Karen’s initial reaction to Ander’s death and the loss of Easter. Other times the loss is less painful, but still difficult, the loss of Swenson’s baby, Marina’s loss of her life as a doctor, Mr. Fox and the Bovenders getting lost on the river and Marina’s recurring nightmares of losing her father. What reactions have you experienced from loss? What has been healing? What has been harmful in dealing with loss?

5/ 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?

6.  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?

7. Beyond lesson of loss, the story is peppered with reflections on life and how we each approach our lives. Dr. Swenson remarks, “Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.” (page 246) While she says this as she is explaining that what she has found is something much greater and much more ambitious that anything hoped for—her work focused on a vaccine for malaria, not only a fertility drug. Have you ever found you’ve been so focused on one goal, you miss opportunities that are right in front of you?

8. 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?

9. What do you think happens to Marina after she returns home?

10. If you could ask the author one thing, what would it be? 


 With every book club we have a special guest who is an expert on this area.

My lovely friend, Daniella Bianchi, who was born in Brazil, will be joining us on this call to share her insider tips on her native country. Daniella was born in São Paulo, Brazil, has lived in Florence, Italy, and now lives in New York, but has been traveling to other countries for a long time. All of these trips have turned into some form of learning.

In Brazil, she visited places that revealed the enormous contrasts of the country. Traveling through Latin America, she also learned about the differences and similarities between Chile, Argentina and Mexico. In Europe, a continent where her Italian roots are grounded, she appreciated culture and art. China gave her an idea about the size of the world and its possibilities. In the places where she has been, Daniella has always been a kind of ambassador for Brazilian culture.

Today, in New York, she continues to do the same, informally representing the country of continental dimensions in which she is proud to have been born. She is the Director of Strategy at Interbrand in New York, is married to a writer who always turns travel into literature and has two children who were born traveling.

Daniella has asked that we make a donation to one of the places she’ll be speaking about on this call, the Casa do Rio, a non-profit that advances biodiversity in the Amazon. 



Your Imagination Can Take You Places

Now more than ever we’re finding cameraderie and inspiration through novels – join us each month as we discuss a different book, suggested by our community, about a far away land. 

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