This book gets a solid "meh." I didn't connect with it, never felt that it had anything deeper or meaningful to say about about life, about medicine, about family or children, and then, near the end, one thing made me enraged. I don't know what Ann Patchett was trying to achieve with this book, but I didn't get it. There was the surface layer, and then...?
Incredibly passive biomedical researcher Marina is gently nudged into travelling to Brazil in search of her former teacher, who is there allegedly developing an incredible drug to extend fertility for women indefinitely. Oh, and to look for information on the death of a colleague. Once there, she drifts vaguely into the orbit of her former teacher, Dr. Swenson, and taken along to her hidden camp. There, she...look, I don't know what she does. I mean, I know what happens in the story, but how it affects her? It's all very vague, and we aren't given enough to really know how she changes, other than that initially she finds the life icky and then doesn't.
We don't really know anything about Marina except her passivity, so, wow, is it difficult to give a rat's ass about her.
There could be something to be said here about biomedical ethics, about lifestyle, about anything, really. Instead, what seems to be chosen is a very shallow look at very deep issues.
Oh, and then the part that enraged me. Look, if she decides she can't go back to get the child she just left alone with a hostile tribe, and suffers guilt because of that, that would be one thing. But to give it some pseudophilosophical justification about how "people are only allowed to go into hell once" is fucking ridiculous. One, it wasn't hell, it was a traumatic experience. Two, people aren't goddamned limited to one, and then exempted from all future trauma. It's certainly not a a moral justification for inactivity. Not that she needed one.
And then the book ends. And nothing is really changed, Marina may decide to go back to the Amazon camp, but I don't really care. I don't think she cares. She doesn't seem to have changed, or found meaning or purpose, or a backbone. I'm a little perplexed what the author was trying to do here, because I just didn't get it. At all.