STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett

state-of-woncderAnother terrific story by a master story teller.   I talked about one of her other books which I read, Bel Canto, here.

Again, we have a South American setting, this time in Brazil.   And once again, it is a rather surreal version of Apocalypse Now meets Three Men in a Boat.   (You know, that’s the problem with living a long time and reading an enormous amount.  After a while, everything seems to be like something else you’ve read.)

A pharmacologist, Dr. Marina Singh, who changed her medical career path from ob/gyn to pharmacology, owing to a disastrous accident while doing a Casarean delivery during her residency, is now working for a big pharmaceutical firm doing research.

Another researcher has gone to the Amazonian jungle to work on a drug which would increase a woman’s fertility well into her 70’s.  She discovered this while on a trip to the jungle with her mentor 20 years ago when they came upon a remote tribe in which the women were still getting pregnant and giving birth in what seemed to be their sixties and up. Her research is being funded by the pharma company, but they haven’t heard from her in months.  She has turned off her phone and never answers emails.   They are concerned for her, but even more, they want to know how the drug is coming along.  Money, money, money, you know.   So the CEO sends Marina’s lab partner, an affable young man, down to Brazil to look for Dr. Annick Swenson, and hopefully bring her back so she can make a report to the powers that be.

They hear nothing for several months and then a letter from Dr. Swenson arrives reporting the death of the young man from some mysterious fever.

The young man’s wife is sure he is not dead, and begs Marina to go to Brazil and find out what happened.  Her CEO also wants her to go, but to find Dr. Swenson and haul her sorry a$$ back to the States.

So that is the first half of the book.  The second half is about her journey, the odd folks she meets in the Brazilian city that is the jumping off place for traveling into the jungle, her relationship past and present with the irascible Dr. Swenson, and what has happened to the young doctor.   It starts off with a strange and surreal river trip to the almost inaccessible  location of the tribe in question, where the good Dr. is ensconced with several other researchers.  And gets weirder from then on.

An amazing read, and I hope you put it at the top of your To Read In This Lifetime list.




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