Monday, May 21, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Published in paperback May 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

When co-worker and friend Anders Eckman dies in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, Marina Singh is sent by the company to finish the mission he was sent on - a mission she is reluctant to taken on. The sense of an obligation to Anders widow convinces Marina to journey to the equator in search of her former mentor who has disappeared while researching and developing a new drug for Marina's company.

As with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Patchett has dropped her lead character into an unforgiving setting for which she is utterly unprepared. If you had given me that comparison before I read the book, I might well have run screaming even though Patchett is one of my favorite authors. Thirty years after I studied Heart of Darkness in college, I still can't forget how much I disliked that book. Fortunately, Annick Swenson is no Kurtz, although she is equally idolized by the natives she lives among. Swenson is certainly a force to be reckoned with, a doctor who wishes that she had never revealed that fact to the tribe, a woman who brooks no nonsense and who deeply resents the company who pays for everything she does and has.

Throughout her journey, Marina learns that poisonous snakes, insect bites and unknown infections are not the only dangers she faces. Along the way, she must come to terms with events in her past that she has been pushing into the dark recesses of her mind and discover the things that are really important in her life.

"The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world."

Patchett has a marvelous way of making the smallest details come alive. From a Minnesota winter to the stifling heat and humidity of the jungle, she makes her settings come alive. Seriously, the deeper into Brazil Marina went, the more I wanted to jump into a swimming pool! Patchett's writing blends both a lyricism and starkness and her characters are wonderfully realized. Are they characters readers will relate to or like? Maybe not, but I knew these characters by the end of the book and Patchett kept me interested in the book because I wanted to know what would happen to these people. As much as the book is character driven, the story is, at heart, a look at ethics - just what are we willing to do in the name of scientific discovery and business? Patchett never fails to deliver a book with amazing depth.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.

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