State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)

I’ve never been a big Ann Patchett fan.  Run and Bel Canto were intriguing, but I didn’t think either of them was particularly great.  But I really liked this book.  The story is compelling and believable, the characters are much better developed, and the writing is just plain better.  Most of this book is set in the Amazon jungle where a doctor is working on drug development for a big pharma company.  At first I thought it was a bit too Heart of Darkness-ish, but really it doesn’t go that way.  Yes, the river is omnipresent and natives are part of the narrative, but this isn’t a story about Dr. Swensen going native.  It’s much more a story about drug research, about the possibility of a breakthrough drug, and about politics of a drug company.  But it’s also about the main character, Marina, and her search for self as she treks to Brazil in search of her lab partner who never returned from his foray into the jungle to work with Dr. Swensen.  We get some mystery, some science, some geography, some anthropology, some infectious disease, some psychology–all this twined into a good story.  This is a light read, but well worth it.  A good “take your mind off other things” kind of novel, but also one that offers some very good writing.  I don’t see this offering a deep book club discussion, but it surely takes us on an Amazon journey–a journey I’ve not traveled many times before.  (fiction)

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