Monday, October 3, 2011

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

When a pharmacologist working for a major drug company is declared dead from a fever in the Amazon while on a work reconnaissance trip, his colleague Marina journeys to the jungle to learn what happened to him. A reluctant
Marina arrives in bug-ridden Manaus only to learn that her destination, a mysterious research lab run by her former professor, is more difficult to both find and understand than she had ever anticipated.

While this story does not sound like a likely candidate for a lyrical, moving book, in Ann Patchett's amazingly talented hands the novel simply soars. Marina is a complicated character and, though it takes us a little while to get to know and care for her, her journey is ultimately worthwhile. And Patchett's writing is a joy, as she brings us to the sticky, oppressive heat of Manaus, the mind-numbing terror of the monotonous jungle, and the simple beauty of the Minnesotan plains. Take the following excerpt, for example. I will never think of opera in the same way as before.

... But when the house was dark and the overture rose up to their third-tier balcony she understood completely. Suddenly every insect in Manaus was forgotten. The chicken heads that cluttered the tables in the market place and the starving dogs that waited in the hopes that one might fall were forgotten. The children with fans that waved the flies away from the baskets of fish were forgotten even as she knew she was not supposed to forget the children. She longed to forget them. She managed to forget the smells, the traffic, the sticky pools of blood. The doors sealed them in with the music and sealed the world out and suddenly it was clear that building an opera house was a basic act of human survival.

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma