Blue mushrooms and yellow tree bark – what would you do? State of Wonder

I write with unfortunate news of Dr. Eckman, who died of a fever two nights ago. Given our location, this rain, the petty bureaucracies of government (both this one and your own), and the time sensitive nature of our project, we chose to bury him here in a manner in keeping with his Christian tradition….Despite any setbacks, we persevere.

The letter writer, Dr. Annick Swenson, is a fearless force of nature.

Marina Singh, the protagonist, is not.

Watching the relationship between these two women unfold in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder was one reason I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

If you’ve read the book or are in the process of reading it, I’d like to know what you think about these two women. Do you like them? Do they change as the story unfolds? For better or for worse?

What do you think about their relationship with men? I found myself comparing Dr. Swenson’s relationship with Dr. Rapp to Marina’s relationship with the men in her life, especially her father and Mr. Fox.

Any thoughts about Marina’s nightmares, induced by taking a drug to prevent malaria?

The conventional roles of mother, father, friend, lover, husband, wife, and child seem to become less strictly defined and more fluid as the story unfolds. What do you think about that?  Consider the Lakashi tribe, too.

What exactly was Easter all about? What do you think of the way Marina, Dr. Swenson, and other characters treated him?

Many of Patchett’s characters must make difficult moral choices. Do you agree with the choices they made? Do any surprise or upset you?

We encounter addicting yellow tree bark, blue mushrooms with hidden power, and lavender moths unlike any other species of moth. What do you make of how the characters responded to these discoveries? What would you do?

Please tell me what you think about any of this in the comments below. There are bound to be disagreements – the more discussion, the better!

What Albert Einstein Said to a Girl
It occurred to me that the books I’ve featured on this blog have so far been about strong, independent women departing from traditional roles.  When I was checking my email subscriptions before I wrote this post, I found this:
Albert Einstein once had a correspondence with a young girl who wanted to be a scientist. She regretted the fact that she was a girl but said she’d grown resigned to it. She hoped Einstein wouldn’t think less of her for being female.
You can read his reply in Brain Pickings, a website about creativity that I like, in a post about women in science.

The letter is from Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters To and From Children.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, HarperCollins Books, 2011