Feature

Novel of the week: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s best novel yet is about an ethnobotanist who’s gone rogue in the Amazon and the efforts of a former student to track her down.

(Harper, $27)

Ann Patchett’s best novel yet “steps boldly into Heart of Darkness territory,” said Mary Pols in Time. Its Kurtz is a woman—Annick Swenson, an ethnobotanist who’s gone rogue in the Amazon after claiming to have discovered the secret to endless fertility among a tribe whose women bear children into their 70s. One man sent by Swenson’s funders has already died while trying to bring back hard data, so his old lab partner, Marina, is sent in his footsteps and becomes the novel’s “reluctant Marlow.” The “state of wonder” in Patchett’s title kicks in as soon as Marina’s plane touches down, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Or at least when she finally comes face to face with Swenson, a former mentor to Marina who is “far and away the novel’s best-realized character.” Swenson is that “dragon of a teacher who lurks somewhere in every student’s academic history and whose cruelty and exactitude are inseparable personality traits.” She arrives late to this story, but “she is worth the wait.”

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