State of Wonder is Ann Patchett’s eighth book that revolves around a mighty pharmaceutical company, a group of scientists and a tribe in the Amazon Basin that holds a medical secret that if released can change the world. The story line is told using limited third-person point of view with the narrator having the knowledge of Marina Singh thoughts and actions. This is a reliable narration style as compared to the first person narration. It helps in revealing the feelings of Marina and through it; the readers learn emotions of other characters. This point of view proves vital to the novel as it shows how Marina grows ethically, forgets her past, and soldiers on to achieve her mission. The author would find it challenging to bring effects of Marina and Swenson’s past without the use of limited third person narration.
In her article, Eberstadt argues that a contemporary woman is on a professional and personal journey. I tend to agree with this when the modern day woman is brought into picture. Many women are on the run competing with men. The novel’s protagonist, Marina Singh is a researcher in a Minnesota pharmaceutical laboratory. We meet her on a journey to unwrap a mysterious cause of her coworker’s death. She is also to evaluate a research of a field team in the jungle headed by her former mentor, Dr. Swenson. The relationship between her and the mentor is the main tag of war in this novel. Using language, Ann has tried to show how Marina tracks down her former mentor.
Eberstadt shows Dr. Swenson interested in discovering a fertility drug that helps the Lakashi people in Amazon jungle to bear children in old age. The author says “She found a village of people in the Amazon, a tribe,” Anders had told Marina, “where the women go on bearing children until the end of their lives. . . .(176). Personally, I tend to see this as fiction. Looking it from a biological point of view, there is now way one cane bear child to old age. It is a big lie. This scientific quest puts the lives of people at risk. This story shows all the hurdles that Marina’s journey faces and how she handles them. There are a number of speed bumps used by Patchett to give this novel a literary traction. This trick Patchett uses it to create a vast scenario for ordinary characters. On her journey, Marina loses her clothes, suitcase, cell phone, and reading material. This is a tremendous challenge to her. When she arrives, the mammoth task faces her. She has to endure a number of tests to locate the whereabouts of Dr. Swenson. The scorching heat and fever are two challenging tests she faces.
The fact that the nightmares occur each night leaves the reader wondering what the aim of drugs is. We see her taking water from a cold river to lower the fever. This cure works remarkably well. This is a paradox of traditional cures and the modern ones. The malaria drug, Lariam acts as a metaphor of how journeys are in the minds of people, even after the trip is over. It displays a situation that triggers sickness. This book shows a difference between civilization and traditionalism. The main characters, Lakashi community, Marina and Dr. Swenson all face medical challenges, and they have to make an ethical choice to rescue themselves. The duty of these characters lies between progress and failure. Dr. Swanson says: What happens to the girl whose brother cuts her after I have gone? Does the tribe still have faith in the man who sewed up heads before me? Has he kept up his own skills or was he too busy watching mine? I do not intend to be here forever…” (56)
Patchett has used superb language to take readers through the primitive world in which Marina lives in. Marina is determined to know why her colleague Anders Eckman dies in the jungle while chasing Dr. Annick Swenson. She is acutely aware of dangers ahead but does not allow them to cow her. There are many poisonous snakes and memories, sickening losses and dangerous mosquitoes, but still she is determined to finish her assignment. “She’s such a force of nature. . . . a woman completely fearless, someone who sees the world without limitations.” (77). The author has placed this character in such an extraordinary way to show case the courage of modern women. She is a symbol of strong women in society who are courageous enough to get into the world of unknown. In the novel, she is moving from a primitive locality into the unknown. This foreign and frightening portrayal enhances the adventurous nature of the book. This novel highlights how horrors of the jungle can change into life. All that matter is dedication and perseverance.
The main theme of discussion that comes clear in this book is the courageous role of women in the modern world. The author has crafted this book in such a way that it portrays a woman working dangerous ecological environment all in the name of unraveling a mystery. Dr. Swenson is a researcher who has been working in the jungle for years aiming to know the secret beyond the fertility drug that sees Lakashi women bear children long after years of menopause. As the book closes, readers get to know the ultimate truth- Marina reveals that Lakashi rely on the bark of a tree known as Martins, which can see them bear children even at the age of 70. There is also a discovery of a moth, the martinet, which lays its eggs on the bark of this tree. This moth is a cure against malaria. It is clear on how the Lakashi people rely on traditional cures to enhance their health and generation. These people are put parallel with Marina and Dr. Swenson who use modern research methods in the laboratory. These two characters show how modern people are moving away from the safe old ways of doing things.
Using the character Marina, Patchett puts to task the view that progress is achievable through academics only. In using art, the author tries to explain the difference between civilization and jungle. Dr. Swenson is working from a jungle while Marina works in a decent laboratory. Before she starts her journey to the jungles, Marina passes through Manaus opera house that is a sacred space: “There was no real explanation for how such a building was conceived for such a place. Marina thought of it as the line of civilization that held the jungle back. Surely, without the opera house the vines would have crept up over the city and swallowed it whole” (167) The readers will tend to think that after her long stay with the Lakashi, Marina would define jungle and civilization in a measurable manner. She shows how civilization had created a notable society that even changed her
Patchett has shown how creative use of language passes message. She has used the magic of weaving words to bring a detailed story that makes the reader salivate when reading. Language and voice are her main ingredients of developing characters that differ in gender and age. There are also elements of suspense and mystery. Her story is mysterious but still lies within literary fiction. She has utilized her skill of capturing emotions.
“State of Wonder” handles problems that result from scientific exploration. Through Marina, this book tries to explore ways on which people can extract raw material without having the habitat destroyed. This book explores the private matters of Marina and her mission to uncover the mystery. It is a confrontation between Marina and her former teacher. In this battle, she hopes to win over the scientific secret of the teacher. As the book closes, we meet marina who has imaginations that have “been systematically chipped apart by years of studying inorganic chemistry and charting lipids” she has “put faith in the data”(346) and she is ready to fight as long as the truth comes out. There is a paradox here as she has to betray her teacher in order to get what she wants. She has to leave her family back and go on a journey to uncover the unknown.
As a reader, one will be compelled to note that the ethical problems the novel raises do not receive fair treatment they deserve. They have the least attention ever. In this novel, the heroine is seen to be a strong lady who is ready to sacrifice her life to save a society. Very few people around her can support her endeavor. However, the resolution she makes is what is essential. She approaches the issue on a personal level as compared to the philosophical way that her former mentor uses. This is another level of confrontation between the two main characters. In essence, the confrontation between Marina and Dr. Swenson is a fight between good vs. bad, old vs. new, and traditions vs. modernity.
Patchett, Ann. State of wonder. New York: Harper, 2011. Print.
Burn, Stephen. ” State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – review | Books | The Guardian .” Latest US news, world news, sport and comment from the Guardian | guardiannews.com | The Guardian . N.p., 24 June 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/24/ann-patchett-state-of-wonder-review
EBERSTADT, FERNANDA. “Book Review – State of Wonder – By Ann Patchett – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., 17 June 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/books/review/book-review-state-of-wonder-by-ann-patchett.html?_r=0