Video book review: State of Wonder, By Ann Patchett

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The Independent Culture

The book reads like a Dan Brown novel, with a plot line that dashes from one continent to another, with secret scientists working deep in the Amazon rainforest and remote tribes guarding ancient secrets.

The story follows Dr Marina Singh as she makes a journey from her hometown of Minnesota to the heart of the Amazon rainforest to investigate the untimely death of her friend and colleague Anders Eckman.

The company Marina and Anders work for has been carrying out research deep in the Amazon rainforest for a number of years investigating the women of a remote tribe who remain fertile well into their seventies and give birth to healthy children.

The company wishes to discover their secret and harness it into a new fertility drug that would change the lives of women for ever and create huge financial rewards for the company.

The scientist leading the research, Dr Swenson, had failed to report back to the company for a number of years and keeps all her work shrouded in mystery. Anders had been sent out to the Amazon to check on progress of the drug, when he suddenly died, and so like her colleague before her, Marina is sent out to find out what is happening.

Marina makes an unlikely heroine, and is totally unprepared to make this journey alone. Her vulnerability is established from the very outset, as she leaves the safety of Minnesota and arrives in Brazil where she instantly loses all her luggage and everything familiar to her – including her mobile phone- her only means of contacting the outside world.

As she travels deeper into the Amazon rainforest, we also travel deeper into her past - her past relationships, her fears and insecurities.

The book examines issues of morality and science. It asks when science should intervene with local traditions, and just how far we should go in the pursuit of medical research. The book doesn’t try to prescribe an answer to this, but leaves the reader with some uncomfortable questions to ponder.

While this may sound very heavy; it’s not. The story is ultimately a wonderful adventure and a tale of love, commitment and the sacrifices people make in the name of science.