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Thursday, September 29, 2011

State of Wonder

State of Wonder

Ann Patchett
Harper, 2011

When a fellow researcher dies while checking on a field team doing research in the Amazon, Marina Singh is asked to learn about his death – and to investigate the research group stationed there. Although Marina is justifiably nervous about suffering the same fate as her colleague, she feels pressured into the trip by the president of the company, partly because she is having an affair with him and partly because the dead man’s wife begged her to find out what happened to her husband. Marina understands the urgency regarding the research team’s work: they have discovered a tribe of Amazonian Indians where the woman are fertile until their eighties, and a drug that could help women conceive and bear children would make millions of dollars. However, she is nervous about meeting the doctor in charge of the research, Annick Swenson, who was her mentor and instructor in medical school.

Marina undergoes quite a journey to find the research group and Dr. Swenson, who is alive and well and still developing the drug despite what she considers to be undue harassment from Vogel, the pharmaceutical company funding her research. Clearly bothered by Marina’s presence, she nonetheless brings her to the tribe’s location and there Marina learns how important – and dangerous – the research is. In fact, Marina now easily understands how easy it is to die in the jungle; there are enough deadly insects, reptiles, fish, and other creatures there to kill off a whole team of doctors, let alone one man. As she learns more about the amazing properties of the tree bark that seemingly enables elderly women to become pregnant, Marina finds herself becoming less interested in her former career and more drawn into the Lakashi way of life – so much so that she debates staying on to take over Dr. Swenson’s life work until an event occurs that wakes her from this romanticized, dream-like existence, and she is required to make the most difficult decision she has ever had to make.

Patchett has woven a hypnotic and magical story about a normal person who must gather every ounce of courage, strength and skill to tackle a task that most people would not be able to accomplish, let alone attempt. Marina is not so special – and in fact – she freely acknowledges that she is not the best person to travel to a remote village to check on her former professor, a person that she shared an unpleasant and unfortunate experience many years ago. Yet, she finds the inner resources to do what must be done, and in the process changes the lives of so many others. This story succeeds on many levels, but the best things about it are the unforgettable setting of the Amazon Valley, the fascinating portrayal of the Lakashi people, and the moving stories of two women who must make very difficult decisions and live with the consequences.


Other novels by this author:
The Patron Saint of Liars (1992)
The Magician’s Assistant (1997)
Bel Canto (2001)
Taft (2003)
Run (2007)

Other titles you may enjoy:

White Mary by Kira Salak (2008)
War reporter Marika Vecera learns that her long-time hero, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert Lewis, has committed suicide and sets out to write his biography, only to hear rumors that he may still be alive in Papua New Guinea.

An Obvious Enchantment by Tucker Malarkey (2000)
A woman heads to Africa in search of her professor, who mysteriously vanished while researching an ancient African legend about a mythical king, and uncovers romance, mystery, crime, and magic along the way.

The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment (2005)
Sara Ehrenreich, an acclaimed American painter who has spent the past thirty years living on a remote South Pacific island, returns to New York in the 1970s, in a novel that reveals the story of her life through flashbacks.

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