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Extended Audio Sample Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell Click for printable size audiobook cover
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:
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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. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “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.”


  • “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

  • “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.”


  • “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.”


  • “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.”


  • “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.”


  • 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.”


  • “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.”


  • “Wonderfully imaginative.”

    Seattle Times

  • A 2013 International IMPAC 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 by 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 by 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 by 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 by 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. "

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