This is the sixth novel by award winning author Ann Patchett. I have not read any of her other novels, but the book was selected by one of my book clubs. The book club has not yet met so I cannot say what others thought about it.
State of Wonder is a novel about Marina Singh, a forty-something year old pharmaceutical researcher, formerly an OB-GYN chief resident before that life was altered by a medical error and malpractice suit, who is sent on a mission from the lovely state of Minnesota to the bowels of the Amazon jungle in order to check on the work of a rogue scientist working on a miracle drug and to find out what happened to a co-worker.
I enjoyed the read and being a medical professional myself, I also enjoyed the multiple references to women in medicine, to bioethics, and to the experiences of a medical student or resident though there were quite a few falsities as if the author never did any fact-checking. For example, I kept racking my brain to see in what kind of scenario an Ob-Gyn resident would be in a classroom…with medical students. The psychological side effects of the anti-malarial drug, Lariam, was a running theme, and that too kept my interest as I have taken Lariam several times without any trouble, though now I’m made to question if that battle with the roach was a figment of my imagination. It was not. In addition, the frequent talk of travel related infections and illnesses and precautions held my interest because, well, because I’m an infectious disease specialist.
But, I am also a brown person in this world, and I cannot say I enjoyed the objectification of the native peoples hidden away in the Amazon jungle, nor their exotification, nor infantilization. What exactly is an “intractable race”? I could see myself tearing apart this novel for one of my college anthropology classes. The Lakashi had no voice and no purpose in life. I often had to ask myself whether this novel was set in modern times (where one could catch a first class flight from Miami to Manaus) or centuries ago when Europeans discovered cannibalistic, primitive, simple minded humans that blended in with untouched flora and fauna.
There are so many twists and plots in this novel that you get to the point where you know that what you are reading is just simply implausible. Worse, the characters are all very dry and boring…but I guess in that way quite realistic. After all, there are loads of bland people out there.
In the end though this is a story of adventure, of bravery, and of suspense and so if you don’t mind a somewhat poorly researched soap-opera-ish novel with these themes then this is for you…I on the other hand am in a state of wonder as to how it ended up on the New York Times Bestsellers list.