Summary and book reviews of The White Mary by Kira Salak

The White Mary

A Novel

By Kira Salak

The White Mary
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Marika Vecera, an accomplished war reporter, has dedicated her life to helping the world’s oppressed and forgotten. When not on one of her dangerous assignments, she lives in Boston, exploring a new relationship with Seb, a psychologist who offers her glimpses of a better world.

Returning from a harrowing assignment in the Congo where she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers, Marika learns that a man she has always admired from afar, Pulitzer-winning war correspondent Robert Lewis, has committed suicide. Stunned, she abandons her magazine work to write Lewis’s biography, settling down with Seb as their intimacy grows. But when Marika finds a curious letter from a missionary claiming to have seen Lewis in the remote jungle of Papua New Guinea, she has to wonder, What if Lewis isn’t dead?

Marika soon leaves Seb to embark on her ultimate journey in one of the world’s most exotic and unknown lands. Through her eyes we experience the harsh realities of jungle travel, embrace the mythology of native tribes, and receive the special wisdom of Tobo, a witch doctor and sage, as we follow her extraordinary quest to learn the truth about Lewis—and about herself, along the way.

The black waters of Elobi Creek show no sign of a current. It is another dead waterway, Marika tells herself, one that will breed only mosquitoes and crocodiles. Another waterway that somehow reflects—in the darkness of the water, in its stillness—all of her failings. These waters, this breathless heat, seem to be waiting for a response from her, a call to action. But she has no answers. And if she’s to be honest with herself, she never had any. Things will unravel. They will fall apart.

If she is to be honest with herself—and the pain from self-honesty, but the duty of it, too—she must admit that this time she seems to have started something that is beyond her ability to stop. It is as if the dominoes of her life have begun to fall, and she can only watch each moment disappearing in the futile fractions of a second. She is still looking for her ghost. Nearly three months spent in Papua New Guinea, and no sign of him. Does Robert Lewis know she has given up ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What is at the heart of Marika’s quest to find Robert Lewis? What does he represent to her? How does her image of him change throughout the novel?

  2. How did your impressions of Seb shift throughout the novel? What sustains his relationship with Marika? What are its greatest challenges?

  3. How does the spiritual world of the Papua New Guineans reflect their view of themselves and their place in the world? What universal fears and rites are captured in their beliefs? Do they reflect or refute the book’s epigraph from the Gnostic gospels? Do Marika’s spiritual beliefs change as a result of her journey?

  4. During her travels, Marika is often asked if she is an anthropologist or a missionary. What do those two vocations have in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Salak makes some stylistic decisions that initially come across as awkward, choosing to differentiate the PNG scenes from those occurring elsewhere by a change in tense .... Fortunately, the plot is so involving that the reader is willing to overlook the book's weaknesses. The White Mary is a great adventure story, and is certainly a page-turner. but it will not be for everyone. People who are bothered by graphic descriptions of brutality should probably give this novel a pass. Most fans of the genre, however, will want to put this one on their list.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Sebastian Junger
One cannot write well about people risking their lives without having done it oneself; suffice it to say that Kira Salak is profoundly convincing on the topic. Salak's got it: That ability to capture the world in all its beauty and darkness and violence without romanticizing it. This is a book borne of the years that Salak spent as a journalist and traveler in some of the most terrifying places in the world, but she has held on to her basic humanity through it all. That essential humanity is what elevates The White Mary—and all of Salak's work—from mere 'adventure writing' to true literature. The reader is changed by it—changed in the same way Salak must have been, many times over, in the writing of it. This is a truly inspiring book about the kind of place I have spent many years reporting from. There is no doubt: She nailed it.

Author Blurb Philip Caputo
With The White Mary, journalist Kira Salak makes a stunning debut as a novelist. This is a story whose beauty and power sweeps you along, like the jungle rivers that bear her heroine into the heart of New Guinea in search of a vanished American. In the tradition of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim and Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter, The White Mary is a superb adventure tale that explores the human soul, a tale of a physical journey that frames a spiritual quest for love and meaning in a world sadly deficient in both.

Kirkus Reviews

A vivid journey too often slowed by tedious flashbacks...if only Marika's internal demons were as interesting as the external ones Tobo teaches her to surmount.

Library Journal

The prose is sometimes a bit pulpy, but the story is undeniably involving. The prose is sometimes a bit pulpy, but the story is undeniably involving as Marika .... A good addition for all fiction collections.

Publishers Weekly

Gripping…a blend of Heart of Darkness and Tomb Raider. While the book can be harrowing...it offers Marika a redemptive optimism in the face of the worst humanity has to offer. Pick of the Week.

Reader Reviews
Cherylynn

The White Mary
This book kept me on the edge and I did not want to put it down. It is hard to find a book that gets under my skin but this one did that. I never knew what was going to happen next and in no way could guess. That to me is a good book.

Jake

An amazing, powerful, riveting book
The characters, scenes, events and descriptions of this book are so real that I found myself almost living Marika's life and experiencing her trials, tribulations, and successes in her amazing journey from traumatic events to a spiritual awakening. ...   Read More

Erika

The White Mary
In Salak's dugout canoe take an inhospitable adventure into the jungles of Papua New Guinea in search of a man believed dead. But is he? Beautiful, hypnotic, mesmerizing, intoxicating. Raw in nature while elegant in spirit. Simple yet deeply profound...   Read More

Laura

The White Mary
A harrowing adventure story at it’s core, The White Marycenters around Marika Vecera, a war correspondent always seeking out the world’s most dangerous situations because of a life-long commitment to tell the story of victims of war and genocide. But...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Papua New Guinea

Geography
New Guinea, the second largest island in the world*, is situated approximately 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Australia. The Independent State of Papua New Guinea (aka Papua New Guinea or PNG) comprises the eastern half of the island. (The western half is the Indonesian state of Irian Jaya.) PNG has an area of 178,703 square miles (462,860 square kilometers) – about the size of California – with a population of 6.3 million people (2007).

Early Exploration
Archeological evidence suggests the island was inhabited approximately 50,000 years ago by Asian settlers. The first recorded contact with Europeans didn't come until Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses "...

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