Reviews #49 and #50 of Bel Canto and State of Wonder

Bel Canto



Narrator: Anna Fields

11:24 hours

Publisher: HarperAudio
(September 25, 2007)

This books counts for

2011 Audio Book Challenge

State of Wonder



353 pages

Publisher: Harper (June 7, 2011)


I am amazed at the number of incredibly good writers I have been discovering this year so far. The last to date and not the least is Ann Patchett. Last year, a friend had recommended to me Bel Canto. Then came this year all this buzz around State of Wonder, so I ended up at the same time listening to Bel Canto and reading State of Wonder. It was the first time I was led to do this, and it was an excellent experience, that can only work with a very very good writer.

In both books, characters are launched or stuck in situations beyond normal, that they could not have imagined. The heroes/heroines are fundamentally good people, and a choice they made from the depth of their hearts sent them to unexpected destinations, geographically and interiorly as well.

The description or rather evocation of the exterior circumstances and the inner landscapes is mind blowing. Everyone is so real, discovering himself/herself in the process.

In Bel Canto, this is the case for the terrorists, as well as for the vice-president, the diva, the translator, and his boss. They all discover new dimensions and horizons during the several weeks they spend all together in this one house. The way the vice-president discovers his own house and how to do mundane house chores he never had to care for in his previously protected and privileged life, is a great image of  what all the characters discover, whether it be the simple joy of being alive, musical talents, new languages, or the ultimate language of love.

This is certainly the case as well for Marina in State of Wonder, sent also in South America, as she discovers the treacherous traps of the Amazon region of Brazil and of her nightmares and memories.

The particular aspects of dialogue between people from all over the world and of various languages was of great interest to me in Bel Canto, because of my background.
By the way, the narrator was excellent at imitating the different accents, I am so glad I listened to vs. read that book. She had also the right level of emotion I would say. It’s hard to describe, but she reached the perfect balance between distance and involvement. Another blogger told me she passed away since, but she did narrate several books earlier on.

Another fascinating element in these two books is the author’s talent at ending the stories. I read somewhere that everything always ends well in Patchett’s books. I am afraid this reader may not have really read the whole book. I don’t want to include any spoiler here; in both cases, on the surface yes, things could have turned so much worse and gloomy, and both masterpieces end on an hopeful note, on a new beginning, but wait, at what price? The sacrifice of the innocent, the exchange of lives, and maybe also the deliberate choice to be happy with what you have, even though that was not your initial choice. This is certainly not a romantic view of life. But could it be the real definition of happiness?

Added on 8/5/21:
In 2010, Ann Patchett co-founded the bookstore Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes and it opened in November 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Incidentally, I love that name for a bookstore. Inspired by the fun book Parnassus on Wheels, which I enjoyed a lot.

Bel Canto was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago as part of the Renée Fleming initiative. It premiered on December 7, 2015. Unfortunately, I was not able to go, but I listened to it live.
This was shortly after terrorist attacks in Paris, so maybe it was a good thing I was not there, as even on the radio, the shots during the opera could have seemed too real for my comfort.
The libretto is sung in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, Italian, and Quechua (first time ever this language was used in an opera!).
You can find more details about the opera here.


Bel Canto:
Somewhere in South America at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.
But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.
Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers. [Goodreads – except it’s not all that rosy…].

State of Wonder:
Award-winning, 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.
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.
Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. 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, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher’s expectations.
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. [Goodreads]


Ann Patchett is an American author. She received the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002 for her novel Bel Canto. Patchett’s other novels include The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, and The Magician’s Assistant, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and received the Nashville Banner Tennessee Writer of the Year Award in 1994. [Goodreads]






33 thoughts on “Reviews #49 and #50 of Bel Canto and State of Wonder

  1. Emma thank you so much for stopping by my blog, after reading your review for Bel Canto I am definitely going to look into getting that one, it sounds really good 🙂


    • You are welcome, that’s the advantage of the Tours: to discover new bloggers. I’m glad my review gives you the desire to read another great book!


  2. I’m halfway through State of Wonder and am entranced! What remarkable writing, insight, characterization, plot development, flawless dialogue! I’m in heaven.

    But help! I’m halfway through. I have to come to grips with the fact that State of Wonder will come to an end, eventually. Sigh.



    • the book will end, but I have the feeling the characters will remain with you for a long time. Also prepare for a tough ending, not too heavenly-like, Patchett-like though, very well done AND tough


  3. I must recommend Ann Patchett’s remarkable memoir, Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face. Don’t miss it–it’s a tour de force.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)


    • Thanks Judith, I was actually wondering about that one. I hope your power is back, we were 24 hours without it a few weeks ago in the Chicago suburbs – did a lot of reading!! LOL


  4. I had a really good friend review Bel Canto last week and after reading her review (now supported by yours) I plan on reading it sometime in the future.

    What I found fascinating, as far as my reaction anyway, towards State of Wonder was that I thought about what Marina’s life would be like after the book. I wanted her to go one way, but think she will go the other. That supposition on my part, more than anything else, has made it one of the sadder books I’ve read this year.


    • Thanks for your comment. I guess you may have the same type of reaction to Bel canto’s ending, I won’t tell more, no spoiler. I agree with you, and it really amazes me when people say Patchett’s books end well. They are extremely well done, ok, but tough. Also thinking about the young Easter!


    • I did mention it in this paragraph, but I realize it was a bit confusing, as I just talked about State of Wonder in the previous paragraph, so I’m going to specify. Here is what I wrote: “The particular aspects of dialogue between people from all over the world and of languages was of great interest to me, because of my background. By the way, the narrator was excellent at imitation of the various accents, I am so glad I listened to versus read that book.”


  5. Isn’t Anna Fields a great reader? She passed away a few years ago, so it’s too bad we won’t get anything new from her. She did record a whole bunch of books, though, so there are more opportunities to listen to her.

    And I AM going to get to State of Wonder before the summer – you and Jen have both given it good reviews, so now I’m inspired! 🙂


  6. Pingback: June 2011 Wrap-up « Words And Peace

  7. One of the reasons I was so excited about reading State of Wonder is that I really enjoyed Bel Canto. The writing in both books is amazing, and I love how both of them are so unique!


    • Thanks for your comment Laura. I agree with you, and want to read more by her. Have you tried any other yet?By the way, you may want to look at your settings: the link to your blog that comes with your comments does not work. so I was not able to go visit your site


      • Thank you, problem fixed! I can’t even imagine how long that’s been broken…

        I’ve also read Run, which I didn’t find anywhere near as memorable as these two books. I think I liked it, but didn’t love it.


        • Well I’m sure glad to discover your blog, and I enjoy very much your template, unique and very attractive. Thanks for Run, I won’t waste my time on it then


  8. Pingback: July 2011 Wrap Up « Words And Peace

  9. Pingback: 1st blogiversary!! « Words And Peace

  10. Pingback: Review: ‘State of Wonder’ by Anne Patchett

  11. Pingback: Interview with Debra Dean, author of The Mirrored World « Words And Peace

  12. Pingback: The top 9 Books to read in September 2016 | Words And Peace

  13. Pingback: The top 11 Books to read in October 2016 | Words And Peace

  14. Pingback: Nonfiction November 2018: Book Pairings | Words And Peace

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.