Why I Read It: I read Bel Canto a few years ago and was completely blown away. For some reason, though, Ann Patchett hasn’t made her way to the top of my book list since then. I remember this book sounding interesting when it came out, but the wait list at the library was so long. I saw it on a shelf when I was browsing a few weeks ago, and remembered that I wanted to read it.
My Rating: 4 Stars
My Review: Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher, sets off into the Amazon to retrieve the belongings of her recently deceased colleague, Anders, and, more importantly, to uncover the truth behind his somewhat mysterious death. To do this, she must find Dr. Anneck Swanson, who Anders was sent to find. This enigmatic doctor–Marina’s former mentor–has been studying a tribe whose women can bear children well into their seventies, and is being paid by Marina’s company to discover the key to this genetic wonder.
This description was difficult to write, because the summary makes it sound like a simplistic adventure story. It’s so much more than that. It is about survival, in a sense–Patchett brings the darkness and horror and uncertainty of the untamed jungle to life. But it’s also about confronting the past, and overcoming fear, and discovering who one truly is. Marina is a complex and beautifully drawn narrator, a woman filled with self-doubt and regret who slowly loses herself in the seductive wild of the Amazon. Dr. Swenson is a modern-day Kurtz, a Westerner gone rogue, worshiped by the native people she lives with–she’s by turns terrifying and sympathetic, a three-dimensional and completely intriguing narrator.
There’s an almost supernatural side of this story–it’s eerie and weird and Patchett’s descriptions of the jungle get under your skin. The whole book feels otherworldly, almost, and although there are elements of the plot that are strange and somewhat unbelievable, Patchett handles them well, balancing the bizareness with realism. The title is appropriate, I think–I was in a state of wonder myself as I found myself completely absorbed into the narrative.
Should You Read It? This was a great read–one that I got completely caught up in, and was sad to see end. Highly recommended.