31 March 2013

State of Wonder

Summary from Goodreads:
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, "State of Wonder" presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, "State of Wonder" is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.

I am always hazy about Ann Patchett books. I like them, like the words, the way she makes sentences, but I get an odd feeling that I was expecting something else. I can't quite put my finger on it.

The premise of State of Wonder is really interesting (even if it reminded me of the movie Medicine Man in basic outline at the beginning).  Brilliant/difficult researcher goes incommunicative while on a big R&D contract with a pharmaceutical company.  The first person to try and find her falls ill and dies prompting the company to send Dr. Marina Singh who has a lot of personal baggage to deal with (not to mention a) why the company sends two cholesterol researchers after a fertility specialist and b) Marina has been sleeping with her boss and it's a weird relationship).

There is a lot of beauty in Patchett's descriptions of the Amazonian rainforest as Marina heads deep into unknown territory and the whole thing takes on a lurid quality due to the hallucinogenic dreams induced by Marina's anti-malarial medication.  The research lab environs are meticulously created in the reader's mind, the relationship between Marina and Dr. Swenson is developed to a very fine detail.  But...there is a part of Marina that I don't quite understand and she makes some decisions that don't seem to make much sense to me.

There is a great value in the medical ethics brought up, turned over, and examined throughout the course of the book particularly in the value (or lack thereof) the "bottom line" of the pharmaceutical industry.  It's a multi-billion dollar business, very risky, and often will forgo the development of more "humanitarian" research in leiu of that which will benefit the western medical establishments who can afford the cost of questionably needed drugs.

Dear FTC: I purchased a copy of this book.

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