Sunday, March 27, 2016

Staff Picks - State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder (M) by Ann Patchett would make a great book club selection. There are lots of meaty themes and ideas here to sink your teeth into and to stimulate a terrific discussion.

Marina Singh appears to be a most unlikely hero. Having failed as a medical doctor, Singh works as researcher for a pharmaceutical company. She is in her forties, single and involved in a relationship, although a rather cool one - she only refers to him as Mr. Fox -  with her employer. She is just the right demographic to be interested in the company's most exciting project - a potential new fertility treatment. The company is sponsoring the research of Dr. Swenson who is in the Brazilian rain forest working with the Lakashi tribe, who are amazingly able to bear children into their seventies. Marina's colleague tracks Swenson down to report back on her progress and mysteriously dies. Somewhat inexplicably Mr. Fox sends Marina to the rain forest to report back on Swenson's progress. Even more inexplicable is the fact that Marina meekly agrees to go.

Obedient Marina embarks on a Heart of Darkness (M) quest to find the Kurtz-like Swenson and ultimately determine what happened to her friend and colleague. Although she appears to lack the street smarts necessary to care for herself on such an epic journey, she is very open, welcoming and internalizes new experiences. Her inclination is to take the safe route and to examine facts and data to make decisions. In this new environment, she must now confront larger human issues and make the messy choice to save one by betraying another.

This is a novel about big ideas. Humans have an intense desire to pass on their genetic makeup. The North American assumption that it a person's right to reproduce has become big business. Lakashi women can bear children into their seventies and this appears to work for them. In their dangerous world the infant mortality rate is high and an elderly Lakashi woman would pass the care of the infant onto her daughter or granddaughter. How would this work in North American society? Just because an elderly woman can give birth, is it right that she does?

State of Wonder started out a bit slowly, but really picks up pace once Marina reaches the rainforest, almost as if she was sleepwalking a bit until this point. The novel has shades of magic realism and would certainly appeal to someone who enjoys character-driven stories and a strong sense of place. Thoroughly enjoyable!

If you have enjoyed State of Wonder you might also like The White Mary (M) by Kira Salak. "Marika Vecera, a seasoned war reporter at thirty-two, is on assignment in the Congo when she’s captured by rebel soldiers and nearly killed. Making it home to Boston, she finds herself drawn into a relationship with Seb, a psychologist who offers her glimpses of a kinder world. But when she learns about the suicide of her hero, Robert Lewis, the famous Pulitzer-winning journalist, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever recover from the loss. She begins writing his biography, only to receive a shocking letter from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis alive in a remote jungle in Papua New Guinea. She can only wonder, What if Lewis isn’t really dead? Marika is determined to find out if the letter is true. Leaving Seb, she embarks on a grueling journey through one of the most dangerous places on earth. She is guided by Tobo, a witch doctor who shows her a magical world of tribal custom and taboo, where people live in fear of spirits coming for them in the night." publisher

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