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What is Patchett's "State of Wonder" about?

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"State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett is about a medical researcher named Marina Singh who travels to the Brazilian rain forest to discover how fellow researcher Anders Eckman died. Singh receives news of his death from Dr. Annick Swenson, her former medical school teacher. Swenson was notoriously hard on her students and was the cause of Marina's decision to drop out of medical school. In Brazil, a deaf boy named Easter guides Marina into the jungle.

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The rain forest is a foreign and wondrous environment to Marina, who spends the first part of the novel searching for Swenson. She finds her former teacher living among the Lakashi people who have discovered that eating the bark of the martin tree enables women to continue having children into old age. Swenson, who is researching fertility drugs for a pharmaceutical company, tests the bark out on herself and becomes pregnant at age 73.

Dr. Swenson believes the tree bark's malaria-fighting properties are more important than its fertility uses. She seeks to prevent the outside world from entering the lands of the Lakashi and disrupting their lives. Ultimately, her pregnancy fails, and Marina must assist her by delivering her stillborn fetus.

Maria believe a white man spotted in the jungle among a tribe of cannibals is Anders and journeys into the forest to rescue him. She exchanges Easter for Anders, which infuriates Swenson, and brings Anders back to his family in Minnesota.

"State of Wonder" examines the exploitation of native people in the name of science. It also explores the ethical questions pertaining to medically induced pregnancy in older women and the decisions made by pharmaceutical research companies. Additionally, it focuses on the intense feelings often arise in student-teacher relationships.

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