This novel was an uneven, at times much too obviously contrived quilt of present day events and memories of the past divided by chapters. There were moments of lyrical intensity, of really good writing, but they often occurred at the end of a section with an obvious literary flourish that jarred with the emotional intensity the author was doing her best to immerse us in. My family also left the country of my birth when I was very young and relocated to the U.S., I also grew up the only kid in the neighborhood who spoke another language at home, I too lost my father to cancer as an adult, and the emotional issues asociated with these events are well documented, sometimes in uncomfortably painful detail. And yet all the bread in between these tough crusts is missing. The characters lives are not evenly fleshed out, and the end of the book is quite simply abrupt–father dies, end of story. I was left feeling empty and wondering why I spent so much time with these people.
A mirror that reflects the world and its events is not the same as a painting, for example, that renders reality in a way that reveals its soul and mysteriously deepens our experience of it. This novel is the literary equivalent of a photo album, lots of vivid snapshots but, in the end, that’s all it is; I didn’t feel any closer to the soul of the narrator, perhaps because she is sadly lacking in one and is primarily a rudderless collection of thoughts and feelings. What happens after the physical death of her father? Nothing, which is what this book left me feeling, along with sadness that people can be so tormented by what, in the end, boils down to an absolute lack of faith, a visceral terror of death, of annihilation of self, first as an exile and then as a corpse. Harrowing but in no way enlightening or uplifting. A really good novel can be realistic and sad as well as enjoyable and inspiring but Forgotten Country, while in many respects well written, is marred by a profound lack of vision.
“In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe…” I can only wonder why on earth State of Wonder is the title of this terrible novel, and why I sat through Marina’s utterly annoying passivity; seen through her eyes, the world is a dim, sad place, and so too are most of the people in it (except perhaps upper middle class Minnesottans.) Seduced by some really nice metaphors at the beginning, I expected an intelligent book, something with real substance, but instead all that I felt after I finished reading it was resentment at how much melodramatic angst I was forced to endure before a rushed, completely trite and emotionally flat ending. Some quality writing throughout does not justify such a lackluster, uninspired, and factually marred story bristling with trite prejudices. This novel is an emotional drain, a pseudo-intellectual tease and a spiritual waste of time.