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State of Wonder    by Ann Patchett Amazon.com order for
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Ann Patchett. A name that always brings a smile to my lips, for the reading pleasure she has given me. Her new book, State of Wonder, also rates a smile, a big one.

Marina Singh is a researcher for a pharmaceutical company. When one of their own is reported dead in the jungles of Brazil, she is sent to verify his death and hopefully bring his body back to the States, so his wife can begin to accept his demise. Incidentally, she is to discover why the jungle facility is non-communicative not having had contact with the parent company for an extended period of time.

Arriving, she discovers that one of her professors when she was in medical school is in charge. The lab is looking for a vaccine for malaria, which could save thousands of lives every year as well as fatten the company's coffers immeasurably. Dr. Annick Swensen, who runs the lab deep in the jungle, has also discovered a tribe where women are still fertile at seventy and beyond! She prefers to continue her research in this field and to stall the malaria investigation.

Marina relays her journey from the States to the jungle of Brazil in such vivid detail, I found myself scratching an imaginary mosquito bite. It's wonderfully depicted. Marina is enthralled with the area. There are butterflies that dart through the trees, silver scaled fish surfacing in the river, an impenetrable forest, slashing rains, and magnificent sunsets.

At best, the standard of living is well below the poverty level. At one point, Marina's luggage is lost and she is left with a simple dress as her only attire, when the women of the tribe casually steal her clothes right off her body. The women are obsessed with braiding her hair. Life is extremely simple in this deep forest village, but the natives seem contented.

A small deaf-mute boy plays a role in this story. This is a strange child who just appeared one day at the compound but who is instrumental in the plot. State of Wonder has been recommended as good summer reading by Time Magazine. I heartily concur.

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