My husband is Brazilian; he was born in Sao Paulo but moved to Texas when he was a pre-schooler and became a US citizen years before we got married. I’ve always found it ironic that my soul mate was born thousands of miles away from me but the houses we grew up in are walking distance from one another. Despite our long relationship and the extensive family he still has living down there I’ve never been. There are a few reasons for this: it is prohibitively expensive, would deplete all our paid vacation time and we have been trying to get pregnant for almost two years and Zika is still rampant south of the border*. The biggest reason though is my husband has no desire to go back home; every time a trip to Brazil gets mentioned he goes into a rant about the last time he was back home as a high schooler when his family rented a beach house but no one would actually go to the damn beach with him. It is also humid with no central air. My in-laws go once a year because they have bank accounts in Sao Paulo that require annual check ins to prove they’re still alive or else the money goes to the government. I do hope one day, after we have a kid, we do make the pilgrimage and then my husband will have someone to go to the damn beach with.
State of Wonder opens with the news that Dr. Marina Singh’s colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman, has died while on a trip to Brazil to look into the progress eccentric Dr. Annick Swenson has made into a fertility drug. Dr. Swenson was a brilliant OBGYN who, in a previous life, was Marina’s mentor but has since rededicated her life to studying the Lakoshi tribe. Marina has also left the gynecology field and now works at a pharmaceutical company called Vogel who has been funding Dr. Swenson’s research. The Lakoshi women never lose fertility and continue to give birth to healthy babies well into their seventies and eighties. Dr. Swenson and Vogel intend to use the information gathered about the Lakoshi to create a drug that will give women everywhere the ability to extend their fertility and choose to start a family at any age they desire. Unfortunately Dr. Swenson has been very cagey about her research and Vogel, understandably nervous they’re throwing their money away, sent Dr. Eckman to Brazil to gather some more information.
“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
After Anders’ death Marina is sent to find out what happened as well as the state of the research. While she journeys through Brazil is search of answers about Anders, the Lakoshi and Dr. Swenson’s research Marina manages to go on a somewhat spiritual journey of her own. Patchett draws many parallels between Marina’s journey into the jungle to the Orfeo de Euridice, the opera Marina attends with the Australian couple who live in Dr Swenson’s Manaus apartment and act as her gate keepers. Despite the somewhat supernatural aspect to the Lakoshi’s fertility and the convenient loss of Marina’s luggage and phone (twice), therefore isolating her from the world outside the Lakoshi, Patchett does an excellent job of grounding her work firmly in a believable reality. Marina and Dr. Swenson are well written, well rounded female characters who both grow during the course of the story. To share more about their personal journeys would spoil a lot so I will remain brief but effusive in my praise; Patchett has a beautiful way with words and while some of her passages may meander the journey is enjoyable. I listened to the audiobook and some passages felt like true poetry when spoken aloud.
State of Wonder is set primarily in a remote part of the Amazon and when I mentioned to my husband that some of the descriptions seemed a bit over the top he replied with “no, the Amazon is a shit hole.” **
*Seriously, we are currently seeking help from a fertility clinic and we signed paperwork saying we wouldn’t travel anywhere the CDC still lists as having a high risk for Zika.
** He wants me to add that while it is a shit hole it is necessary to protect the rain forest, people just shouldn’t go there on vacation.