Thursday, October 25, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

A few people have asked me, what happened to my book blog~why had I stopped writing it?  Don't worry. I'm still here, and I'm still reading. (My husband can vouch for that.) It just that it takes a while to find a best book, but State of Wonder by Ann Patchett certainly fits the bill.

I've read three of Patchett's other books: Bel Canto, Run, and Truth and Beauty, and State of Wonder is  better than these. Maybe it appeals to me because of the medical/pharmacological plot.  (I do love tales of pharmaceutical intrigue!) A Minnesota-based pharmaceutical company wants to keep tabs on its well-paid drug researcher in the Amazon, who is far less forthcoming about her progress than desirable.  The company sends another scientist to find her and report back, with disastrous results.  Instead of canceling the drug altogether (because of projected millions to be made), the company CEO sends yet another employee, Dr. Marina Singh, into the wild.  The story of Dr. Singh searching and finding her erstwhile teacher/pharmaceutical savant is captivating.  The Amazon jungle bubbles with snakes, mosquitoes, cannibals, and unforeseen surprises of a more human variety.  The setting and character development of State of Wonder remind me very much of another best book~Barbara Kingsolver's African tale, The Poisonwood Bible.

The theme of travel as a route to self-knowledge has always fascinated me: it is irony at its richest.  Indeed, Marina learns more about herself on this journey than she would have had she stayed in her beloved Minnesota.  Sometimes, you have to go far away to discover what lies nestled in your very own cerebral cortex.  Marina learns that long-gestating fears can be birthed in the most remote of locales, resulting in longed-for peace and homecoming.

Our family tends to be homebodies, and books like State of Wonder remind me how transforming trips can be.  Every day stress cues are gone, and you can focus on what's in front of you and learn. (I just don't want to go to the Amazon jungle~malaria is best experienced textually rather than biologically.)