Excerpt from The White Mary by Kira Salak, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The White Mary

A Novel

by Kira Salak

The White Mary
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

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 everything to find him? More to the point, would he care? She ought to go home. Go back. Call this for what it is: a failure.

Beauty intrudes upon her. Flocks of red and green parrots. Butterflies of blue and gold dancing over the black waters. Crowned pigeons with their regal headdresses of gray plumage. She would like to know this beauty, not just see it. In the same way, walking down a city street, she might gaze at the featureless crowds and catch sight of a face that awakens something vital in her. A longing, perhaps. A burst of compassion. She looks at the thick, ripe jungle around her: squat sago palms nesting beside the riverbanks; ancient trees rising toward darkening clouds. It should not be so hard, she tells herself, to know this beauty.

Thomas, the lanky young man driving their dugout canoe, stops the outboard motor. The intense heat never seems to bother him, his green T-shirt saturated, his exposed black skin glistening from sweat. He picks up his bow and a bamboo arrow ending in four prongs, and aims at a crowned pigeon. Releasing the arrow, he watches it cascade into the rain forest, just missing the bird. As the pigeon flees for the sky, Thomas speaks sharply in a tribal language, putting down the bow and starting up the outboard motor. The jungle didn’t seem to notice. The butterflies continue whirling. The parrots chatter. A white cockatoo fluffs out its feathers and relaxes them. As the sun disappears behind a large gray cloud, Marika yanks down her hat’s brim, staring into the tangled greenery around her. She wants a sign. She would like to know that all the events of her life have conspired to bring her to this exact instant in time, with nothing - none of it - being a mistake.

But this world of Papua New Guinea won’t tell her anything. It will just burn her white skin a deeper red. It will suck all the remaining moisture from her, stinging her, biting her, keeping her from sound sleep. The jungle rises thick on either side of the narrowing waterway, interconnecting overhead as if she were entering the bowels of a giant green serpent. Miraculously—or so it seems to her—she actually arrives somewhere at the end of each day, alive. And closer, she hopes, to Robert Lewis.

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Excerpted from The White Mary by Kira Salak Copyright © 2008 by Kira Salak. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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