Ann Patchett takes the ingredients for a high adventure story with strong moral underpinnings and puts them together with women in the lead roles to create a story that transports you away from the mundane world without allowing you to escape the larger questions of ethics and morality.
The story is set in the steamy Amazon basin, but instead of Indiana Jones hacking his way through the jungle in search of ancient treasure, we have Marina Singh a medical doctor turned pharmacologist as the reluctant heroine whose Minnesota-based employer, the Vogul Company, sends her into the unknown on a double-pronged mission. Singh is charged with tracking down the elusive and self-righteous Annick Swenson, her former medical school professor, who is developing a valuable new drug for the firm, as well as with discovering the truth behind the reported death of fellow research scientist Anders Eckman, who preceded her on the search for Dr. Swenson.
The book’s cast of colorful characters includes Milton, a cross between a chauffeur, guide and personal Jeeves; the deaf boy Easter, rumored to be from a cannibalistic tribe; the gad-about Bovenders, a young Australian couple who go the way the going is easiest; and, the late Martin Rapp, a world renowned botanist who devoted his life to researching mushrooms in the Amazon and who also happened to be Swenson’s mentor and lover.
The book boasts an exotic locale, troubled protagonist, elusive goal and a series of life threatening obstacles, including a jaw-snapping anaconda, as well as major inconveniences, like a lost cell phone that along with the terrain contributes to the isolated setting. Read in the summer, State of Wonder makes a great beach book and in the winter a perfect antidote to cold and snow.