Rated Reads

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

Rated: Moderate

When Dr. Marina Singh is sent to a remote area of Brazil to track down her former mentor, now researching a potentially groundbreaking fertility drug for Marina’s pharmaceutical company, she is drawn into the complex situation more than she had expected. She only agrees to the trip because she wants to find out more about the death of a co-worker sent down a few months before her to pin down more information about Dr. Annick Swenson’s research.

Marina is warned a number of times that Dr. Swenson has made herself scarce in the Amazon jungle, keeping her whereabouts unknown, even to the company funding her work. Marina can only find out where her tough-as-nails mentor is by getting information from a young Australian couple in Manaus whom she has hired to be her gatekeepers. Living in Manaus for a few weeks is difficult enough, especially when her luggage goes missing, but Marina feels she owes it to her co-worker, Anders Eckman, who left behind a wife and three boys in their home state of Minnesota, to do what she can to get to the jungle and just discover where he was buried. When she does find Dr. Swenson and makes it to the jungle, she learns bit by bit that there is more to the research than her mentor has let on. The 42-year-old Marina must face her own past with Dr. Swenson (which, naturally, had a big impact on her personally and professionally) as well as her own dwindling window of fertility.

When readers finally meet Dr. Swenson, she is every bit as daunting as she is made out to be. The 73-year-old doctor runs her own show and even has a surprising amount of control over the native tribe whose fertility she is studying. She doesn’t care about her employer’s timeline, considering the company intrusive, and she does all she can to keep quiet all details about what she has learned about the Lakashi tribe over the course of decades. The reader feels justified in being just as offended by her secretiveness as her employer, a big pharmaceutical company. After all, it is their money that is funding all of Dr. Swenson’s work, and as Anders had told Marina, the end result could be “the equivalent of Lost Horizon for American ovaries.”

Of course, the plot thickens, and the characters evolve, even Dr. Swenson. Lots of fascinating twists spring up over the course of the novel, and things aren’t always what they seem. Ann Patchett crafts a fine story with complex characters that just ratchets up the intrigue as the novel picks up speed. Not only that, but the book poses some interesting ethical questions. State of Wonder is a fantastic read.

Rated: Moderate, for three uses of strong language in one intense scene and hardly anything else. There are two sexual scenes with virtually no details.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • State of Wonder
  • by Ann Patchett
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: