I picked up this book in my ongoing love affair with fiction about the natural world. I also really enjoyed Patchett’s “Commonwealth” and I wanted to read more of her stuff. A little bit “Heart of Darkness” and a little bit “Poisonwood Bible“, Ann Patchett’s “A State of Wonder” explores maternal love, the big business of pharmacology and the ethics of interfering with indigenous people. There’s a lot going on in this book.
When a letter arrives bearing the news that Dr. Anders Eckman has died, his research partner, Dr. Marina Singh travels to the Amazonian jungle as an emissary for both the drug company that she works for and for Eckman’s widow. First, she must complete Eckman’s mission to check on another scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson, who is actively working on a fertility drug but no longer communicating with the drug company. Secondly, she is seeking information on Eckman’s death and closure for his widow and his sons.
After her luggage and phone are lost by the airlines, Marina is left adrift on the coast of Brazil. Her reaction to the anti-malarial medication that she is taking, constant night terrors, leaves Marina exhausted and virtually sleepwalking through her days. Besieged by the heat, the language barrier, the constant bombardment of tropical insects, and exhaustion, Marina seeks information on Dr. Swenson and waits in the city for her return.
When Dr. Swenson finally resurfaces in the city for supplies, her refusal to discuss any progress with her research or to shed any light on Dr. Eckman’s death leaves Marina with a choice. She can either return home empty-handed, or travel with Dr. Swenson back into the jungle to find the answers herself. Shackled with insecurity and guilt from a disastrous mistake in her past, Dr. Marina Singh follows Dr. Swenson into the jungle. Here, Marina is forced from the sterile and controlled environment of her lab into the primitive Amazonian jungle that has no room for her insecurities or self pity.
This journey from the labs of a Minnesota pharmaceutical company to the depths of the Amazonian jungle is a wild ride full of colorful characters and vivid scenery. Patchett’s novel exposes the limitations of the human body, the power of sacrifice, and the mark we make on the world around us.