I was hesitant to read Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, mainly, because I'd already heard the inevitable comparisons to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a novel that terrorized me as a student and still sends shudders through me at the though of ever having to re-read it. Still, the allure of a new Patchett novel proved too much to resist.As the novel opens, Dr. Marina Singh has received word that her co-worker and office mate has died in Brazil while on assignment for the pharmaceutical company they both work for, leaving behind a wife and three children. She is asked to go to Brazil after him by both her employer and her co-worker's widow, both to complete the assignment as well as to find out what happened to him. Complicating things further is that the person she is supposed to meet with is Dr. Annika Swenson, Marina's mentor from her days as a med student at Johns Hopkins. As Marina jumps through hoops trying to get to Dr. Swenson, she is led further into the confusing world of the Amazonian jungle, the complicated ethics behind Swewon's research, and a re-examination of everyone's motives in all the decisions they are making. Where Conrad's novel was (to me), dense, unreadable, and confusing), Patchett takes the reader on a journey so vivid that you'll find yourself scratching imaginary insect bites and seeking your mosquito netting to pull around your bed before you go to sleep at night. The descriptions are lush without being cumbersome, and you feel at every moment the confusion and difficulty Marina faces as she must make each decision.In the end, no character is left unexamined, and no character left unscathed. You may be left with more questions than answers, but the characters are far more three-dimensional -- and real -- in this jungle novel than Conrad's ever were.