Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- What is at the heart of Marikas quest to find Robert Lewis? What does he represent to her? How does her image of him change throughout the novel?
- How did your impressions of Seb shift throughout the novel? What sustains his relationship
with Marika? What are its greatest challenges?
- 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 books epigraph from the Gnostic gospels? Do Marikas spiritual beliefs
change as a result of her journey?
- During her travels, Marika is often asked if she is an anthropologist or a missionary. What do
those two vocations have in common with her work as a journalist? What motivates all three
groups to immerse themselves in worlds far removed from their comfort zones?
- Kira Salak and her family experienced profound grief when her brother, to whom the book is
dedicated, died in Africa in 2005. She has said that she wanted to explore themes of similar
traumatic loss in The White Mary. How do the characters respond to tragedy? Does Lewis
prove to be someone who wouldnt let the darkness win, as Marika describes him at the end
of chapter two?
- What is Tobos role in Marikas life? Does he give her guidance beyond geography?
- How did you react to the villagers belief that menstruating women are poisonous to men? Was
Marika right to reject their ritual or, as Lewis insisted, should she have respected it? What is
the appropriate way to respond to another cultures traditions?
- How is Marika affected by her familys past? How does she reconcile her own life to the
legacy of her mothers mental illness and her fathers tragic death?
- Marika endures sexual exploitation many times, even at the hands of Newlove when she is
dangerously ill. What is different about the way Seb treats her in bed? What does sex mean to
her throughout the novel? What did impotency mean to Lewis?
- Discuss the unique structural aspects of the novel, including the use of present tense
incorporated with flashbacks. How does Salak evoke the way memory often works?
- What do you predict for Marikas future? How will she be changed by her encounter with
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.