State Of Wonder

A review of the book by Ann Patchett.

When a letter arrives at the Vogel pharmaceutical company Minesota, from a researcher working for them deep in the Brazilian jungle along the Rio Negro river, informing them of the death of Dr Anders Eckman, Dr Marina Singh is persuaded, against her judgement, if not her will, to go and investigate the circumstances of the death of her colleague on behalf of the company and his wife Karen.

Events do not go smoothly even before Dr Singh leaves home for her flight to Brazil. She suffers badly from the side effects of the anti-malarial drug Lariam, which causes consternation to crew and fellow passengers when she goes to sleep on the flight to Brazil but, compared to the unfolding of events after she lands, that was the easy bit.

The chief researcher, Dr Annick Swenson, was a former teacher of Marina Singh at medical school before she switched to pharmacology. Dr Swenson is brilliant and has a fierce reputation for getting things done, and done her own way. However, in this case her concern is also for the Lakashi people, whose life she is researching, protecting them from in-commers purely bent on the profit motive.

While at the research station Marina is not only to investigate the death of her colleague and friend, she is also to report back to the company the progress on Dr. Swenson’s work, as researcher had apparently been quite frugal in her communication of progress to the company funding her project.

For Marina Singh, and perhaps in a lesser way for Annick Swenson too, the time spent in the Brazilian jungle, with the Lakashi people, teaches them as much about themselves as it does about Dr Swenson’s research project. In Marina’s case, she learns too some insights about her relationships with colleagues at Vogel.

Ann Patchett’s book was easy to read, without the need to look up any terms she used in her story. She writes clearly, straightforwardly with great imagination and storytelling ability. State Of Wonder does not rush the reader, drawing you in little-by-little so that you hardly notice its hold over you, until you get beyond half way. From that stage, I did not want to put the book down and just had to keep reading until its end.

A nice touch in the book, are the inclusion of letters between the lead characters, especially those that a young Brazilian lad gives to Marina from time-to-time.

Whilst I think I am able to appreciate good stories, books do not usually stir much emotion in me. State of wonder did, certainly in its closing chapters and one event in particular. It did not bring me to tears but had an effect that I usually only find in stories with some kind of connection to events or parallels with events in my life

“All Marina could see was green. The sky, the water, the bark
of the trees: everything that wasn’t green, became green.”


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