Sunday, April 1, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

   In State of Wonder, Dr. Marina Singh is sent deep into the Amazon to investigate the death of her friend, Anders Eckman.  Marina and Anders had been coworkers at Vogel, a pharmaceutical R&D company, until Anders was sent to the jungle to check the progress of a new, top-secret fertility drug.  The drug is being developed by Dr. Annick Swenson, a brilliant but cold and mysterious scientist who was once a mentor to Marina.

   Marina only expects to be in Brazil for two or three weeks - just long enough to find out why Anders died and to gather his personal belongings.  But what Marina discovers in the isolated, primal landscape compels her to resume her mentorship with Dr. Swenson.  The Amazon, with its kudzu of rivers, dense vegetation and deadly fauna is enough to bewilder Dr. Singh.  But the people she meets of the Lakashi tribe defy Marina's understanding of science and nature.  She is grief-stricken over her friend's death, but the Lakashi people offer enough distractions to keep her in Brazil for much longer than she planned.

   State of Wonder is truly an amazing piece of literature.  Every time I thought I had identified a pattern and knew what would happen next I was proven wrong.  The book is a moral dilemma within a mystery within a mystery and before you know it, your head is swimming with questions about science, ethics, mortality and communication.  State of Wonder asks readers to consider their own physical and emotional limitations - and then these limits are challenged and broken by Marina in our stead.  It's easy for the novel to elicit an emotional response from readers when Marina is so identifiable and familiar.  With this book, Ann Patchett reminds us that our own personal world is microscopic, and that the enormity of our planet is unimaginable until our emotional limits and breaking points overlap with someone else's idea of normalcy.

   I'm really glad this book was chosen for my book club.  There are so many moral and ethical dilemmas in State of Wonder that we may be discussing into the wee hours.  This is the first Ann Patchett book I have read, but I'm definitely coming back for more!

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