State Of Wonder – Ann Patchett
As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.
Review: I have so many mixed feelings about this book. At first it was “Meh,” then it was “Oh, that’s interesting,” then it was, “What the hell? Why?”
Dr. Marina Singh works for a company that creates new medications. When two of her coworkers disappear on a research trip to the Amazon Rainforest, Marina goes to find them. Her trip into the deadly jungle forces her to reevaluate the choice she made to change careers and not have a family.
I’m conflicted, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I had a really hard time getting into the story because Marina isn’t a very compelling main character. She has daddy issues, an elderly boyfriend who she calls “Mr. Fox,” and a job studying cholesterol. There’s nothing about her that grabbed my attention. I actually considered giving up on the book because it takes Marina forever to get into the Amazon. I wanted to read about the jungle and the missing doctors. I didn’t care about Marina’s daddy problems and childhood trips to India.
The story becomes much more captivating when Marina gets into the rainforest. I flew through the middle of the book. The storyline about the maybe-dead coworker gets a little lost, but a lot of thought-provoking ethical questions take its place.
Marina’s missing coworkers went to the Amazon to study a tribe of natives who have some medical abnormalities. The coworkers are reluctant to release the results of their tests because scientists would flood into the area. The tribe and their home would be destroyed. While Marina’s coworkers are trying to protect the tribe, they’re also exploiting them. They’re doing medical tests on them. The tribe members don’t completely understand what’s happening because Marina’s coworkers didn’t bother learning the tribe’s language. Their philosophy is to interact with the tribe as little as possible.
“It is said the siesta is one of the only gifts the Europeans brought to South America, but I imagine the Brazilians could have figured out how to sleep in the afternoon without having to endure centuries of murder and enslavement.” – State of Wonder
“The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived. That is how one respects indigenous people. If you pay any attention at all you’ll realize that you could never convert them to your way of life anyway. They are an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned. You might as well come down here to unbend the river. The point, then, is to observe the life they themselves have put in place and learn from it.” – State of Wonder
Most of the characters are flat, but there are a few I like. Dr. Annick Swenson is complicated. It often seems like she cares more about her research than about the people who the research is supposed to help. I also love Easter, the deaf boy who drives Dr. Swenson’s boat. He’s a sweet, enthusiastic child.
Then the end of the book happens. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but some major stuff goes down. The main characters make several horrible decisions. By the end of the story, I hated everybody except Easter. I felt sorry for him.
Like I said, I’m conflicted. I enjoyed the middle of the novel. The Amazon Rainforest is an intriguing setting. The book definitely made me think about the ethical issues that surround medical research. I didn’t like the beginning or the end of the book. The beginning is slow, and the end irritated me.
“The part when they are together for a while, the two of them, before things go wrong. The way things ended always obliterated the genuine happiness that had come before and that shouldn't be the case.” – State of Wonder