This month Top City Reads Together has been exploring the Amazon rainforest as we read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. In this book Marina works for a pharmaceutical company. She is sent to the Amazon rainforest to check up on a research project run by the formidable Dr. Swenson. Marina finds Dr. Swenson, journeys to her remote research station and discovers a lot of strange things are happening in the rainforest. Join us in the Top City Reads group or at our Zoom discussion meeting to further explore this book.
After reading State of Wonder and learning about some of the wonders of the Amazon, Brazil and the power of one person’s journey into the unknown, here are some other books and DVDs you may want to explore.
Fiction That Explores Similar Issues
The pursuit of scientific advancement – and the related glory and financial gain – can lead to unexpected and even disastrous consequences. This is especially true when the pursuit involves the mighty forces of nature such as those found in the Amazon.
The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment
Sara Ehrenreich, an acclaimed American painter who spent the past 30 years living on a remote South Pacific island, returns to New York in the 1970s. This novel reveals the story of Sara’s life through flashbacks.
“Follow the psychological footsteps of two women who leave everyday American civilization to go native in a remote jungle locale in State of Wonder and The Tattoo Artist. While the exact circumstances differ slightly, both books are dramatic, bleak, and intensely thrilling.” – Rebecca Sigmon from NoveList
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
In this classic tale Charlie Marlow goes to Africa to work as a river-boat captain in the Belgian Congo. He’s seeking adventure and a good paycheck. What he finds instead is quite unsettling. Apart from the unfathomable darkness of the African jungle, he finds European colonizers who are brutally cruel toward African natives. There is also a general sense that civilization is falling apart. Marlow’s primary duty is to recover ivory trader Mr. Kurtz who established his own mad fiefdom deep in the jungle. On the journey Marlow learns about the heart of darkness that inhabits every human soul.
Euphoria by Lily King
Andre Banson is frustrated by his research efforts and depressed over the death of his brothers. In 1930s New Guinea he runs into two fellow anthropologists, a married couple, and begins a tumultuous relationship with them.
“These vividly described, character-centered literary novels portray Westerners immersed in jungle cultures. Euphoria focuses on the relationships among several anthropologists in New Guinea, while State of Wonder depicts the culture clash between North American scientists and Amazonian tribes.” –Katherine Johnson from NoveList
The Sound of Butterflies by Rachel King
When her husband, an amateur butterfly naturalist, returns from an Amazon expedition he is a broken shell of a man. Sophie scours his diaries to discover what happened. She learns additional truths about their marriage while perusing his exquisite butterfly collection.
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre
British spy Justin Quayle’s wife, Tessa, is murdered in a desolate region of Kenya. He sets out from his assigned post in Nairobi to avenge her. But Justin quickly discovers he may be in over his head. Tessa was investigating KVH, a giant pharmaceutical company she suspected of testing a tuberculosis drug with dangerous side effects on Africans. The conspiracy extends from Nairobi to a German NGO, perhaps as far as Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office — Justin’s bosses.
Le Carre’s angry novel is loosely based on a real case involving Pfizer’s testing of a meningitis drug on Nigerian children. He dedicated the book to a French activist killed in the course of her work in Africa.
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of a crew sent to explore a new planet. He discovers an alien civilization that raises questions about the very essence of humanity. This encounter leads Sandoz to a public inquisition and the destruction of his faith.
The characters in these literary novels that skirt the edges of scientific reality travel to frighteningly foreign places where their notions of human nature and philosophies on life fail them. Exotic settings and tense situations create an immersive reading experience. – Jen Baker from NoveList
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Edward Prendick is a young naturalist and the sole survivor of a shipwreck. He is stranded on a remote Pacific island run by the sinister Dr. Moreau, a mad scientist intent on creating a strain of beast men.
“If you like bleak psychological fiction about the havoc that a primal existence and scientific research can inflict upon a person, you may like State of Wonder and The Island of Dr. Moreau. –Rebecca Sigmon from NoveList
True Life Accounts of Amazonian Journeys
Amazon Woman: Facing Fears, Chasing Dreams, and a Quest to Kayak the World’s Largest River from Source to Sea by Darcy Gaechter
Gaechter is the first and only woman to kayak the entire length of the Amazon River.
Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey Into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon by Paul Rosoli
An explorer and conservationist relives his amazing odyssey exploring the heart of the most biodiversity-rich place on the planet – the Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region of Peru.
Walking the Amazon: 860 Days –one Step at A Time by Ed Stafford
In April 2008 Stafford set off to become the first man ever to walk the entire length of the Amazon.
The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace
Journalist Scott Wallace chronicles an expedition into the Amazon’s uncharted depths in search of a tribe that has avoided contact with modern civilization.
Travel & Exploration Guides
Take a Trip to Brazil
If State of Wonder sparked your desire to see more of Brazil, here are some books and DVDs for you.
Brazil (Lonely Planet) Published in 2019, this guide will give you a great overview of Brazil.
Megafalls of Iguacu DVD See beautiful scenes of Iguaçú Falls, which lies between Brazil and Argentina, and some of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Wild Brazil DVD – Go deep into the jungles of Brazil to meet animals like giant otters, tufted capuchin monkeys and the mischievous coati.
Be a Birdwatcher Like Anders
In State of Wonder Anders was so excited about getting to go birdwatching in Brazil. But you don’t have to travel south of the border to get started with bird watching. You can pick up a book like Bird Watching for Dummies or attend a bird walk with the Topeka Audubon society.