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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (21,428 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Karen Russell Narrator: Arielle Sitrick, David Ackroyd Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2011 ISBN: 9780307748881
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From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire”—Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.

The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.

Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.


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Quotes & Awards

  • “Exuberant, big-hearted, and entertaining…In the midst of making readers think, Russell also makes us laugh, cry, and gasp as she concocts an amazing and undiscovered world and populates it with characters we come to care for deeply. You’ll want to savor the sentences in this literary triumph.”

    Maclean’s

  • “This wildly imaginative debut novel, coming on the heels of the short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, delivers on Russell's status as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.”

    Library Journal

  • “Few novelists debut with as much hearty recommendation as Russell…Russell’s willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “[Russell’s] prose dazzles in any medium.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “May be the best book you’ll ever read about a girl trying to save her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Some novels pull readers forward with plots that demand resolution; others make them want to linger on each sentence, bathing in the delights. Swamplandia!…does both, leaving readers with a sweet dilemma: Appreciate the present or forge on to find out what happens next.”

    Columbus Dispatch

  • “Russell’s writing is clear, rhythmic, and dependable, even as her imagination runs wild.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Unlike any story you’re familiar with…A mesmerizing gothic portrait of love, death, and the loss of innocence.”

    Gainesville Times

  • “Funny, sorrowful, and engrossing…Hardly a page goes by without the reader marveling…An adventure story, a tale of family, a testament to resilience and an account of America’s homogenization, Swamplandia! is an accomplished and affecting debut.”

    Richmond Times-Dispatch

  • “A rich, lively narrative (sometimes silly, sometimes sad) with gorgeous language…Russell’s debut novel shines with the glow of the southern sun.”

    Oregonian

  • “Think Scout Finch if she’d been raised in an old-school tourist attraction instead of a tiny town. Or Dorothy if a tornado had dropped her in the Everglades instead of Oz. Or Alice if she had tumbled into a Wonderland populated by gators and ghosts and a man in a coat made of feathers…A story rich in fantastic images and gorgeous language, anchored…by its wonderfully human characters and its big, warm heart.”

    St. Petersburg Times

  • Swamplandia! is both a celebration of the Everglades and an elegy for it…Russell has created a credible, captivating universe.”

    Sun Sentinel

  • “The talent Karen Russell paraded in her remarkable short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves has turned into mastery.”

    Chicago Sun Times

  • “Ava’s juicy, poetic voice, assembled through sheer willpower and joie de vivre and desperation from a self-taught young genius’s love of language, is what carries this book…A garish and fierce beauty.”

    Salon

  • “Audacious, beguiling…Ava’s story turns into a tale that could have been concocted by Flannery O’Connor in partnership with the Brothers Grimm—in other words, a first-class nightmare…You will admire this novel for its prose, but you will love it for its big heart.”

    Daily Beast

  • “Winningly told.”

    Vogue

  • “Winningly told . . . rambunctious. Megan O’Grady, Vogue
  • “I would cross even the most crocodile and yellow-fever infested swamp just to spend an hour with Russell’s prose. She has an imagination like Calvino, an ear like Tennyson, a heart like Carson McCullers, an observing intelligence like Marianne Moore; what I really mean to say is she is a strange and wonderful writer like none other I know. Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
  • “Lavishly imagined and spectacularly crafted. . . . Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air. Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
     
    “A love song to paradise and innocence lost. This wildly imaginative debut novel . . . delivers.
  • “How I wish these were my own words, instead of breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s, whose stories begin, in prose form, where the jabberwocky left off. . . . Run for your life.  This girl is on fire. Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
  • “Already a master of tone and texture and an authority on the bizarre, Karen Russell writes with great flair and fearlessness. . . . The way Russell beds mundane detail in surrealist settings makes her work exceptionally evocative. . . . Russell’s astonishing gifts augur well for a novel of maturity and complexity.  It’s only a matter of time. Carlo Wolff, The Denver Post
     
  • Swamplandia! flashes brilliantly—holographically—between a surreal tale brimming with sophisticated whimsy and an all-too-realistic portrait of a quaint but dysfunctional family under pressure in a world that threatens to make them obsolete…Ava is a true contemporary heroine and not easily forgotten.”

    More

  • “A rich and humid world of spirits and dreams, buzzing mosquitoes and prehistoric reptiles, baby-green cocoplums and marsh rabbits, and musty old tomes about heroes and spells. With Ava [Russell] has created a goofy and self-conscious girl who is young enough to hope that all darkness has an answering lightness.”

    Economist

  • “Wonderfully imaginative.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Dazzlingly original…Like the state itself, Swamplandia! is a crossroads where the wild and the tame, the spectacular and the mundane meet; underneath the hubbub of the fantastic lies a family of misfits at sea in their grief—theirs is a story that is as ordinary as it is heartbreaking.”

    Boston Globe

  • “A spook-house masterpiece.”

    Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • “Beautiful, dark, and funny.”

    Rolling Stone

  • “If no such thing as the Great Floridian Novel already existed, consider it done…A novel of idiosyncratic and eloquent language; hyperreal, Technicolor settings; and larger-than-life characters who are nonetheless heartbreakingly vulnerable and keenly emotional. It’s a tour de force.”

    Elle

  • “The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Russell has deep and true talent.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Karen Russell is young and talented, and has been given just about every age-appropriate honor there is—Best Young American Novelists, 20 Under 40, 5 Under 35. With her debut novel, though, she’s leaving the kids’ table forever. The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement for anyone, period. . . . Effortless prose and [a] small, beautifully drawn cast of characters . . . as densely organic as the swamp in which it is set. Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly, A–
  • “If no such thing as the Great Floridian Novel already existed, consider it done. Karen Russell, anointed by Granta and The New Yorker as one our most brilliant young writers, fulfills the promise of her fiercely original 2006 story collection [with] a novel of idiosyncratic and eloquent language; hyperreal, Technicolor settings; and larger-than-life characters who are nonetheless heartbreakingly vulnerable and keenly emotional. It’s a tour de force. . . . Near-hallucinatory in its intensity—not only in it’s dark, sad, enthralling plot, but in its descriptions of the swamp: gorgeous, precise, lush poetry. The book becomes sharply suspenseful as Russell’s fearless eye and voice go deep into the swamps of adolescence, of what it is to lose a mother, and of Florida itself. Kate Christensen, Elle
  • “Russell does what she does best here—presenting a world we recognize and imbuing it with magical mysticism—and does it brilliantly. The surreal is never a prop, and there’s a heart to the writing that goes beyond the sensational. The novel’s backbone is in the nuanced intricacies of its characters, in their hopes and fears whether tangible or touchingly naïve. . . . Russell’s sentences are well-crafted miniatures building to create a world so enchanted that we are both comforted and devastated to realize that it’s our own. Swamplandia! is a dizzying cocktail of heartbreak and humor, a first novel worthy of celebration. Laurie Ann Cedilnik, Bust
  • “[A] cunning first novel. . . . Russell's willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author. Publishers Weekly (starred review)
     
    “Brilliant, funny, original . . . also creepy and sinister . . . Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is every bit as good as her short stories promised it would be. This book will not leave my mind.
  • “Karen Russell is a fine purveyor of the unexpected, humorous and razor-sharp description . . . Exactly often enough, her vivid description gives way to a deftly inserted truth. . . . Swamplandia! flashes brilliantly—holographically—between a surreal tale brimming with sophisticated whimsy and an all-too-realistic portrait of a quaint but dysfunctional family under pressure in a world that threatens to make them obsolete. . . . Ava is a true contemporary heroine and not easily forgotten. Pam Houston, More
  • “This impressively self-assured debut novel may bet the best book you’ll ever read about a girl trying to save her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park. Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine
  • “A wonderfully fertile novel by an unfairly talented writer. Joseph O’Neill, author of Blood-Dark Track: A Family History
  • “Karen Russell’s worlds, like her protagonists, are fierce and wondrous and hilarious and heartbreaking, and Swamplandia! features everything a reader could want, from bears with bad rhythm to Live Chicken Thursdays to as visceral and dazzling a portrait of south Florida’s now almost destroyed wilderness as you’re likely to read. But mostly it’s a gorgeous and wrenching portrait of sibling love in all its helpless and furious and panicked indefatigability, and of one girl’s determination to do what she can to hold what’s left of her family together. Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand Anyway
  • Karen Russell is a storyteller with a voice like no other. . . . Laced with humor and compassion. Lauren Gallo, People
  • “One of the strangest, creepiest, most surreal collections of tales published in recent memory. . . . Her writing bristles with confidence. June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle
  • “Twenty-five-year-old wunderkind Karen Russell . . . proves herself a mythologist of the darkest and most disturbing sort. . . . Ten unforgettable, gorgeously imaginative tales. Jenny Feldman, Elle
  • “The landscapes of Russell’s imagination are magical places. . . . [A] casual blend of insight and, well, whimmerdoodle. . . . The fablelike settings Russell invents throw the very real absurdity of childhood into relief. . . . Charming and imaginative. . . . [O]ne can sense Russell’s enthusiasm and playfulness, both of which she has in spades. Francesca Delbanco, Chicago Tribune
  • “With this weird, wondrous debut, 25-year-old Russell blows up the aphorism ‘Age equals experience.’  She also suggests ‘Write what you know’ is similarly useless, unless she’s a girl living on a Florida farm, two brothers who dive for the ghost of their dead sister, and children at a sleep disorder camp.  These stories are part Flannery O’Connor, part Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and entirely her own. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly
  • “Endlessly inventive, over-the-top, over-the-edge stories, all delivered in the most confident, exquisitely rambunctious manner.  Fabulous fun. Joy Wililams
  • Edgy-lit lovers will adore this debut short-story collection set in imaginative venues like icebergs. Glamour
     
    “Hallelujah!  Karen Russell’s work sweeps the ground from beneath your feet and replaces it with something new and wondrous, part Florida swampland, part holy water. A confident, auspicious, uncomfortable debut.
  • “This book is a miracle.  Karen Russell is a literary mystic, channeling spectral tales that surge with feeling.  A devastatingly beautiful debut by a powerful new writer. Ben Marcus
     
    “In spare but evocative prose, the 25-year-old conjures a weird world of young misfits and ghosts in the Everglades.
  • “A marvelous book in the tradition of George Saunders and Katherine Dunn. Quentin Rowan, New York Post
  • “Karen Russell’s fresh and original voice makes this a stunning collection to savor. Pages
  • “Karen Russell’s startlingly original collection features graceful and seductive prose that transports the reader into surreal and yet utterly plausible realms. Harvey Freedenberg, Bookpage
  • “Russell makes her sparkling debut with these 10 curious, sophisticated and whimsical stories. Lindsey Hunter, OK! Weekly
  • “Russell’s first story collection is a thing of beauty. . . . This startingly original set of stories, which feels as though it might have been written by Lemony Snicket and Margaret Atwood, is nto to be missed, and author Russell, whose fiction debuted in The New Yorker and who was chosen by New York magazine as one of 25 People To Watch Under 25,’ is poised to become a literary powerhouse.  Recommended. Amy Ford, Library Journal
  • “25-year-old wunderkind Karen Russell—whose house-afire prose has already lit up the pages of Granta and The New Yorker—proves herself a mythologist of the darkest and most disturbing sort. . . . [U]nforgettable, gorgeously imaginative tales. . . . With a flair for transforming common aspects of local culture—from gators to sand-sledding—into wondrous miracles, Russell also cuts straight to the heart of adolescence. Jenny Feldman, Elle
  • “Armed with a subversive sense of humor and a wicked turn-of-phrase, a young writer sets out to redefine the Southern gothic. Brendan Lemon, Interview
  • “This unusual, haunting collection confirms that the hype is well deserved. Like the people in Gina Oschner’s stories, Russell’s characters are caught between overlapping worlds—living and dead, primal and civilized, animal and human—and the adolescent narrators are neither children nor adults. . . . [U]nforgettable. Russell writes even the smallest details with audacious, witty precision. . . . Her scenes deftly balance mythology and the gleeful absurdity of Monty Pytho with a darker urgency to acknowledge the ancient, the infinite, and the inadequacies of being human. . . . Original and astonishing, joyful and unsettling, these are stories that will stay with readers. Gillian Engberg, Booklist (starred review)
  • “[Karen Russell] merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. . . . Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safran Foer . . . and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O’Conner. Publishers Weekly
  • A 2013 International Dublin Literary Award Finalist
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • Selected for the February 2011 Indie Next List
  • A 2011 New York Times Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • A 2011 ALA Notable Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 NPR Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 Carnegie Medal for Literature Nominee
  • A 2011 Washington Post Notable Book for Fiction
  • New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books, 2011
  • Longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction
  • A 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Helen | 2/16/2014

    " I liked it, didn't love it by any means. The writing is colorful and it starts out in a unique setting, I liked the interplay between reality and imagination, and that made me want to like it more. Parts of it drag on, it definitely needed editing. I am still debating whether to give it 2 or 3 stars. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Debi | 2/5/2014

    " Not my favorite book. Liked the detailed descriptions, though. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Marcus Ward | 2/1/2014

    " I think that when a writer delivers you to a place where you at once feel at home and connected to the story, you have the recipe for a great tale. Swamplandia! is this kind of place. The story is fun and zany but Swamplandia! is a place I will miss, maybe even more than the characters. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Allyson | 1/31/2014

    " I almost didn't finish this book, which is rare for me. I got very tired of the prose, which is very descriptive and, I'm sure, quite beautiful, but left me frustrated. I wanted less prose, more plot. The characters were well drawn, but it seems like it took forever to get them to do anything. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Robin Holloway | 1/31/2014

    " I chose to read this book for two reasons: 1) the cover and 2) the title of the author's previous book. Ha! I think you CAN judge a book by its cover sometimes. The book provided an interesting look into the lives of a very different family living a very different life. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Sarah Jane | 1/25/2014

    " Big disappointment. Short-listed for the pulitzer, I expected more. Ho. Hum. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chris Zupke | 1/9/2014

    " I first discovered Karen Russell through her short stories in Vampire in the Lemon Grove. This novel is just as wonderfully written. There are wonderful elements of mystery, weird, emotional and coming of age. It does not resolve itself completely at the end, but that is part of what I love about her writing - it leaves me thinking about the characters and the social implications of their stories. Highly recommend. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 1/5/2014

    " She's a really good writer and this is well-worth reading. It's prettily written (definitely more lyrical and poetic than what i'd expect a kid to narrate, but i guess that's a choice...), has a motor of a plot that somehow includes both magical realistic over-the-top narration and the slowed-down-to-listless mundane. I ended wanted to read more from her and about florida. She's a great host to the strange, the wonderful, and the horrible of deep florida. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Rita Graham | 12/31/2013

    " I didn't finish this novel. I read the first several pages, put it down for a few days, and when I tried to find my place again realized I didn't remember anything about the story. So I began it again and decided I was just not interested. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jill Mccallum | 12/23/2013

    " Ugh, I didn't care what happened to the characters and didn't finish it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Steve Jenks | 12/22/2013

    " I was looking forward to reading this, based on the numerous positive reviews and mentions, but thought it was over-rated. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Malyn | 12/20/2013

    " The prose is lovely. The story is hard to take. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Asia | 9/15/2013

    " Jamie left this at my house. There is one good thing about this book, but I only want to talk to you about it after you've read it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Adam | 9/11/2013

    " Very good but not as wonderful as all the critics have gushed, in my opinion. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lorelei Sharkey | 4/11/2013

    " Enjoyable, really imaginative, with beautiful writing, but found the descriptions of the environment to be so detailed they were hard to comprehend at times...and thus hard to get through. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Wanda | 11/17/2012

    " lost interest in this book.....that it was nominated for a Pulitzer is shocking ... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Whitney | 10/17/2012

    " I really like Karen Russell's short stories, so I expected to like this. But, it was too long for me. It fell apart in the middle and by e end I no longer cared about the characters. For me, Karen Russell's writing is better in small bites. I am still interested in reading her new book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 pjreads ♫ | 10/1/2012

    " Good start and good setting, but last half fails and rape is blinked at. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jsrott | 3/10/2012

    " A very good book! I am likely going to read Karen Russell's other work now. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Marianne | 2/4/2012

    " The blurb on the back says that Russell is, "unfairly talented." That is true. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Malinda | 10/4/2011

    " I started off thinking that this book would be great but ended up absolutely hating it. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Tara Chambers | 9/8/2011

    " Some of the sentences were perfection. Beautiful writing, loved the story, but it is tooooooo slow! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jessica | 5/24/2011

    " I liked this a lot, despite reviews I'd read earlier saying how "twee" this was. I found all of the characters really interesting, loved the lush setting and fascinating history of the area as well. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Betty | 5/18/2011

    " What a fun tale, both hilarious and, at times, heart rending. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennyreadsexcessively | 5/16/2011

    " Wasn't sure I'd like this, but not the surreal, magical realism type book I'd thought it to be. Instead it is a gorgeously written novel of a Florida gator wrestling family that falls into despair-- thrilling and filled with love and longing "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kay | 5/16/2011

    " I liked the alligator wrestling in the swamp, but just wasn't that interested as the book progressed. May be my fault. I think it's well written, just not for me right now. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Jesseb | 5/15/2011

    " The praise, "vividly worded, exuberant in characterization....a dazzling level of linguistic invention," should have warned me. I couldn't get past the first 10 pages. Too overblown: wordy, flowery, blowsy. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Maggie | 5/15/2011

    " Wow, this was different! I really enjoyed it though and as always when I read something like this, am amazed at how some people can string words together. I need to read this again and jot down some of those strings! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Christine | 5/14/2011

    " Magic realism is not my cup of tea, but I thought I'd give this book a try because of all the good reviews. I should have trusted my instincts. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Beth | 5/13/2011

    " At times the prose was beautiful. At times, the narrative seemed to be developing into rewarding complexity. In the end, my over all feelings about the book can be summed up in two words: too cute. Still, I'm glad to have read it for the moments of crystalline prose. "

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About the Author
Author Karen Russell

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel Swamplandia! was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Philadelphia.

About the Narrator

David Ackroyd is an American actor who first came to prominence in soap operas such as The Secret Storm and Another World. He was born in Orange, New Jersey, a suburb of Newark.