This is a good book to bring along on a vacation to South America. I should have recommended it to my brother when he visited Peru last month.
This is the first book by Ann Patchett that I have read. An Orange prize winner, I was surprised how easy it is to read – no hard vocabulary and long draggy sentences favoured by most award writers. This is also the first book I read that is set in the Amazon jungles. Isn’t true what is said about books? Books take you places.
Marina Singh – yes, a woman of American and Indian parentage – is a pharmacologist working in a drug company who is having a secret love affair with her boss, Mr Fox, a widower. Pachett writes of Marina : Being the child of a white mother and foreign graduate-student father who took his doctoral degree but not his family back to his country of origin after he finished had become the stuff of presidential history, but when Marina was growing up there was no example that could easily explain her situation.
Obama must have been an inspiration to this story. I also like how Patchett shows how small the world has become and how mobile global citizens are: Marina was married to a Mr Su, presumably a Chinese. At the lab in the Amazon, there is an Indonesian PhD researcher.
Marina was a medical student under Dr Swenson when she accidentally blinded a child during a C-section. She was so traumatized that she switched field to become a pharmacologist. Coincidentally, Dr Swenson is employed by her drug company to develop a fertility drug in the Amazon jungle, where the women in the Lakashi tribe is known to give birth until their seventies. If the drug company is successful with this drug, then modern woman can choose when to have their babies without worrying about their fertility clock.
When Marina receives news that her co-worker has died mysteriously while on a trip to Dr Swenson’s lab to check on the drug progress, she is sent by Mr Fox to the Amazon to find out what happened.
Her adventure begins as soon as she arrives in Brazil, where her luggage gets lost. She is forced to spend two weeks in a small town as Dr Swenson’s gatekeepers persuade her to leave. For a modern woman who left wintry Minnesota, even for a half Indian who had visited India, the Amazon is no place for this woman – often wet, dirty, full of insects. Even reading about the Amazon makes me, a woman residing at the Equator feels uncomfortable.
Ann Patchett has a talent of incorporating flashbacks so naturally into the context that feels both natural and not forced. One minute I am reading about the current and the next I am taken back in time. My habit of reading the last few pages thus left me confused by this frequent use of flashbacks. Is Marina having flashback at the end of the book or am I reading the actual ending.
What is the Amazon without anaconda, carnivorous tribes and weird plants? Yes, they are all here. I cannot help mentioning that this book reminds me of Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, set in the Mekong. Both are wonderful reads.
There is just one little niggling thought – is the sex scene really necessary? Read the book and tell me what you think.