Ann Patchett’s latest work, “State of Wonder” has everything I love in a novel: science, exotic locale, mystery and ethical exploration.
Marina is a pharmacologist whose boss sends her on a mission to the Amazonian jungle of Brazil to prod and report on the scientist working for his company. She’s also been asked by the wife of her deceased lab partner to learn more about the circumstances of his death and to retrieve his body. What Marina actually finds there in the jungle will delight and intrigue the reader and maybe even elicit a shiver or two.
Dr. Swenson has been working on a fertility drug in the jungle, stringing her employer, Vogel, along for years. She’s as tough and harsh as the environment she inhabits and she’s not about to be pushed. When Marina, who was once her student, meets her again in Brazil, she learns more from her old teacher there than she ever did from her lectures.
A riveting and intelligent story, “State of Wonder” also explores the implications of interfering with indigenous cultures, and underlines the need for maintaining a balance between offering solutions for medical problems and diseases and protecting those social and ecological systems from which solutions are extracted.
Anyone familiar with Ann Patchett’s work will know how skilled she is in creating tense situations which force her characters to react and this book is no exception. The smooth, authoritative writing captivated me from the start, the lush details and fascinating premise kept me engaged, and the last pages were truly wondrous.
*First published in the August 21 edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines