State of Wonder by Ann Patchett begins with researcher Marina Singh setting off on a journey to the Amazon. Reluctantly, she has agreed to look into the fate of her colleague and fellow researcher, Anders Eckman. Dr. Eckman perished mysteriously in the Amazon jungle while tracking down the illusive Dr. Anneck Swenson, a famous researcher who has been developing what could be a very profitable drug for the pharmaceutical company they all work for. She has kept the location of her laboratory in the Amazon a secret and is determined to protect both her research and the Lakashi tribe she has been studying. Anders Eckman had been sent to the Amazon to report on the progress of Dr. Swenson's research when he mysteriously died.
Unknown to her company, Dr. Swenson had been Marina's teacher and mentor, until a terrible mistake led Marina to abandon medicine for pharmacology. The memory of her failure only adds to the trepidation she feels as she embarks on her journey. Once in Brazil, Marina is overwhelmed by the environment. The author does a wonderful job of bringing to life the foreignness of the city Marina finds herself in; the description of the heat, humidity and insect life is skillfully done and helps the reader appreciate the isolation Marina feels.
As Marina makes her way to the research site, her sense of isolation and fear only increases as she moves further and further away from civilization. Once there, it isn't long before the sense of oppression and fear she feels for the jungle is replaced by an understanding and acceptance of its brutal nature, and the true nature of the research being conducted there becomes evident.
In State of Wonder, Ms. Patchett does a wonderful job of creating a very readable and beautifully written book. She writes knowledgably about scientific research and makes it both believable and accessible. She brings up issues of ethics in scientific research without moralizing and leaves the reader to make their own judgment. In Marina we find a character that is lovely; warm and caring, yet troubled. She is stronger than she knows, and brave. In the character of Dr. Swenson we find strength of character and will that assures her the respect and loyalty of those who surround her, yet she has experienced love, loss and regret.
It was very difficult to put this book down, yet I didn't want to read it too fast because I didn't want it to end. I enjoyed this book immensely and will go back and read the author's earlier books, including the award-winning Bel Canto. I feel certain that if you like this book you will also enjoy Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.
Recommended by Nancy Strakna