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The White Mary

The White Mary

Written by Kira Salak

Narrated by Joyce Bean


The White Mary

Written by Kira Salak

Narrated by Joyce Bean

ratings:
4/5 (34 ratings)
Length:
12 hours
Released:
Aug 8, 2008
ISBN:
9781423370499
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Marika Vecera, a seasoned war reporter at thirty-two, is on assignment in the Congo when she's captured by rebel soldiers and nearly killed. Making it home to Boston, she finds herself drawn into a relationship with Seb, a psychologist who offers her glimpses of a kinder world. But when she learns about the suicide of her hero, Robert Lewis, the famous Pulitzer-winning journalist, she doesn't know if she'll ever recover from the loss. She begins writing his biography, only to receive a shocking letter from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis alive in a remote jungle in Papua New Guinea. She can only wonder, What if Lewis isn't really dead?
Marika is determined to find out if the letter is true. Leaving Seb, she embarks on a grueling journey through one of the most dangerous places on earth. She is guided by Tobo, a witch doctor who shows her a magical world of tribal custom and taboo, where people live in fear of spirits coming for them in the night.

A powerful and riveting tale, The White Mary carries the listeners not only into the heart of a strange new world but into the depths of the human spirit.
Released:
Aug 8, 2008
ISBN:
9781423370499
Format:
Audiobook


About the author

Kira Salak won the PEN Award for journalism for her reporting on the war in Congo, and she has appeared five times in Best American Travel Writing. A National Geographic Emerging Explorer and contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine, she was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea and the first person to kayak solo 600 miles to Timbuktu. She is the author of three books—the critically acclaimed work of fiction, The White Mary, and two works of nonfiction: Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea (a New York Times Notable Travel Book) and The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu. She has a Ph.D. in English, her fiction appearing in Best New American Voices and other anthologies. Her nonfiction has been published in National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, Washington Post, New York Times Magazine, Travel & Leisure, The Week, Best Women's Travel Writing, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and daughter in Germany.

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What people think about The White Mary

4.1
34 ratings / 34 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    Marika Vecera is a reporter who is known for taking the dangerous assignments. Stylizing herself on her hero, journalist, Robert Lewis, she takes jobs in war-ton countries and has been in extreme danger more than once.She decides to write a biography of her idol after learning of his suicide. Part of her research involves a trip through the jungles of Papua New Guinea because of vague rumors that Robert Lewis is alive and can be found there. Known as the White Mary by the natives, she embarks on a symbolic journey where she learns as much about herself and her relationships as she does about Robert Lewis.The details of her trip through these jungles makes the book worthwhile reading. The author has travelled extensively in Papua New Guinea and her descriptions really places you there. The rest unfortunately left me rather disappointed The writing just didn’t captivate me, I found the characters quite flat, and even the most intense scenes did not connect with me emotionally. Disappointing as there is an excellent story here that just needed a more dynamic writer.
  • (4/5)
    This is a compelling story about a young woman's search for a journalist who has supposedly died, but instead has hidden himself away from the world in the deepest recesses of the vast jungle of Papua New Guinea. It is very authentic in that the author, Kira Salak, has made such journeys herself in Papua New Guinea and the Congo as described in her two nonfiction books about them. She has turned her experiences into this well paced and believeable story about one woman's search for a missing man and for her own missing identity. A great read.
  • (5/5)
    I got this book as an advance reader's edition through the amazon Vine program. Not normally the type of book I read, but it sounded interesting.Kira Salak herself has a very interesting background. If you go to this book on amazon, she has posted some links to photos she took both in the Congo and Papua New Guinea.The book itself deals with Marika Vecera; a journalist who covers stories in war torn countries. At a talk she meets a psychologist named Seb; who introduces her to happiness and a different world where Marika isn't constantly under threat of death. After a particularly dangerous assignment in the Congo, Marika hears of the death of Robert Lewis, a man whose journalism she has long admired. When rumors surface of him having been seen in Papau New Guina she decides to check it out. Will her trip to Papau New Guinea destroy Marika's relationship with Seb? Will she find Robert Lewis? Will she live through her trip through the dense jungle? These are all questions the book answers.The book was very well written and very gripping. It bounces from the past that lead to her trip to Papau New Guinea (PNG) to the present where she is fighting her way through the jungle. I really found the subject intriguing and had a lot of trouble putting this book down. The characters were interesting and the setting very unique. You could really tell that Salak had experienced these places and been here before.This book was not for the faint of heart. The descriptions of war scenes are vivid as is the the gruesome trip through the jungle. The part of this book I found most interesting were the justifications that war journalists had for why they do this work. It was neat to see into the mind of a war journalist and try to understand what those people get out of doing such a crazily dangerous job.Of course Marika's journey of learning how to live through happiness versus sadness in also interesting. As is some of her contemplation on why she has such a hard time living a normal day to day live. At one point she explains that listening to Seb in the kitchen seems so unimportant and trivial considering that a day ago she was struggling to survive shootings, bombings and kidnapping in the Congo. It made me grateful for the life I live.Salak is a great writer and this was an awesome, eye-opening book.
  • (5/5)
    “The White Mary” by Kira Salak is a story about a female journalist whose career has been in war-torn and ravaged countries, who has narrowly escaped death time and again, who now embarks on a quest deep into the jungles of Papua New Guinea to investigate the disappearance of a highly esteemed fellow journalist who is understood to have committed suicide six months earlier. I loved this book. Imagine a combination of Heart of Darkness, Fieldwork, and The Sparrow and you sort of get the picture. However, be warned, this is not for the faint of heart. There are some soul-breaking scenes and hard questions about life are asked. The answers may not be so elegant and mystical as The Sparrow, but this was an absolutely riveting story about finding peace in a very, very messed up world.
  • (5/5)
    Marika has led a life of danger and excitement as a journalist traveling to the world's most war-torn and troubled locales. But in the process she has lost all sense of herself and her relation to others. When she decides to venture into the deepest forests of the Amazon in search of a missing fellow journalist, her journey leads her to question her life as she lives it and, ultimately, discover how to embrace and seize all that she's been missing.I found this book to be powerful, thought-provoking, and spiritually moving. Marika's journey is an allegory for all of us as we search to live our lives more fully and learn to open ourselves to honest and fulfilling relationships with our world and those in it. I'm looking forward to exploring other works by this author!
  • (5/5)
    *Tour-de-force in the JungleDroning insects, screeching monkeys, and slithering snakes create the opening scene after you crack open the cover of The White Mary, Kira Salaks fictional debut. The fetid and uncanny stillness of the swampy atmosphere has the reader imagining they have been transported back into a Jurassic period of time, devoid of human occupation with only the wildest of nature's creatures around you. The story begins with the heroine, gliding in a dugout canoe through the eerie, yet magical, mangrove infested waterways of Papua New Guinea. She is being led into the heart of the jungle by a native guide named Tobo, who thinks she is a white witch because of her red hair. The soundless environment is only occasionally broken by the buzz of a mosquito, or the sudden crackling ripple of water broken by a surfacing crocodile. Marika Vecera is an award winning Foreign Correspondent Journalist. Her newest mission is to write a biography about her own journalist hero, Robert Lewis. After returning from a harrowing escape from an attack in the African Congo that nearly killed her, she buries her post traumatic emotions by writing about Robert Lewis' life who was recently presumed dead from suicide. In researching his life, Marika finds a startling piece of information that may lead to her finding he is still alive, deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. This incredible and profound literary novel breaks ground and offers the reader a philosophical insight into Marika's upcoming travels. Both her journey into the interior of Papua New Guinea's dangerous country, and into the personal journey of her soul as she reveals an intimate portrait of her fears, heartaches, and journey of healing. The book alternates between chapters of Marika's death defying trek through the jungle, her flashbacks of her near death attack in Zaire, and of her tender but tumultous romance with Seb, her psychiatrist boyfriend whom she leaves behind in a trail of tears. An added bonus too are wonderful Papua New Guinea folklore tibits that insert a little fun and lightheartedness when at times the story is so emotionally exhausting the reader might feel drained. The reader encounters an inside view of Papua New Guinea's native village life with their throbbing drums, mosquitos that suck your blood incessantly like hungry vampires, and where witch doctors dance around ailing souls evoking spirit gods to keep them all from harm. Within this story I found so much power, passion and poignancy. There is great depth and beauty to this novel that a reader doesn't encounter too often. I loved this book and felt awe inspired that an author could have such incredible talent. Salek has the incredible ability to at one moment describe abominable graphic violence enough to make you cringe, yet in other moments write the most tender and precious, sweet and sexy love scenes that have you crying for the beauty of it all. It is soul-searching, sensual, and yes, scary too. I would highly recommend this book to most people I know, but it's certainly not for the weak-kneed or faint of heart. There are some scenes that are quite brutal and unpleasant. I believe, this is an award-winning book. It doesn't get much better than this.
  • (4/5)
    Marika is a journalist. She travels to some of the harshest areas in the world, reporting on war, atrocities, all the stuff people don't want to see while safe at home. The man who inspired her, Robert Lewis, has died. Then she hears a rumor that he's been seen in Papua New Guinea. She decides she has to know if he's alive, no matter the cost. The description of travel through PNG is amazingly well done. So well done that I know I never want to travel through the interior of that country. Ever.It's a very good book, if not always pleasant.
  • (2/5)
    The White Mary by Kira SalakAlthough I cannot write a good novel nor could I teach how to accomplish that feat, I know when I am reading one; this is not a terrible book but it is not a good one either. Too much of the book’s plot simply lacks credibility. Characters do not seem authentic because their actions seem impossible or inexplicable. Marika Vecera is a successful journalist but how does she manage to penetrate the New Guinea jungles where few white men and no white women have ever gone? Salak’s plot hinges on the reader believing that Marika would choose six months of trying to survive in an extremely inhospitable jungle to discover whether Robert Lewis, a man she has never met, is alive or dead. After miraculously finding Lewis, she then engages in an improbable love affair with him and he, who seems barely sane, tells her what he has told no one else. Why would Marika risk everything, including her life, to investigate a rumor about a fake suicide? Why would she have indiscriminate sex with men she barely likes when she supposedly loves and lives with a man she genuinely admires? How does she manage to survive mountain climbing, swamp forging, malaria, disease, ringworm, lack of food and water while simultaneously becoming an expert in forest survival strategies? Salak asks the reader to suspend all disbelief and just trek along with her through the plot’s jungle as well as through the New Guinea jungle. Salak is no genius at writing stimulating dialogue either. Far too many Marika responses consist of “Yeah.” Why bother with such a lusterless response and why so frequently? Dialogue is not the only repetitious element. Marika’s eyes fill too often with tears though she can endure amazing hardships and face death with barely a shudder. I also became quite irritated with the continual mosquito onslaught. As a former English teacher, I also dislike authors who write in fragments when a sentence would work better. For instance on p. 347 as Salak summarizes the lesson the reader is to learn about choosing life over death: “For all the ugliness in it. And for all the grace.” Clichés plague this book’s themes as well as its characters, plot, and dialogue. Marika learns after several near-death adventures that no matter what tragedies occur, no matter what horrors exist in the world, she must choose happiness for herself. She must choose to save herself. Real courage isn’t about visiting dangerous places or risking her own life. Real courage, she has learned, is choosing to live. Better yet, she will not choose to live just for herself but for the world. These ideas are neither profound nor original. I think that Salak toyed with the idea of a cruel, powerless, or nonexistent god but then decided to end on an optimistic note. After just touching on that idea, Salak leaves Lewis alone in the jungle to struggle with his atheism and sends Marika back to her ever forgiving, overly sensitive, wealthy, handsome, brilliant boyfriend. The reader wonders why she ever left him.Better editing might have eliminated at least some of the many episodes of mosquito attacks, endless descriptions of wounds, scrapes, bites, etc. After 351 pages I hoped for a more profound ending than a conversation with Tobo, Marika’s guide and rescuer, and Marika concerning his dead sister’s necklace: “She starts to take it off, but he shakes his head. ‘You must wear the necklace until it falls off. Then my sister’s soul will go on.’ ‘But I’ll be flying back to the U.S. with it.’ ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘She will know where to go.’” That is what I call ending a novel with a whimper rather than with any sort of a bang.
  • (4/5)
    This book is a tale of darkness and light with the main character, a reporter of Third World conflicts, finding herself through a search for another person.Descriptions of atrocities, while graphic, are key to the reader understanding the horror of "man's inhumanity to man" and the effect on those who live through those atrocities.Marika Vecera, the main character journeys through awakening experiences in Africa, Boston, and finally Papua New Guinea. The experiences ring true and are enhanced by the author's intimate knowledge of the places she writes about. To quote the author, this story "guides us from illusion to truth, from darkness to light."
  • (5/5)
    This is one the best books I've read all year. Not only is the character of Marika Vecera believable, she elicited so much sympathy from this reader that I was torn between wanting to finish the book and not wanting to leave the world she inhabited. I do realize this is a work of fiction but I reads like it's based on actual occurrences, and the author has confirmed this the case. I'll admit it is very dark indeed. It contains scenes of torture, mutilation and suffering, but since the author had survived so much it seemed somewhat cathartic to even just read of her experiences.Two thumbs and two big toes up!
  • (4/5)
    The White Mary has an intriguing premise. The main character, Marika Vecera, returns to her home in Boston after a hellish journalistic assignment in the Congo. Unable to get past her experiences there, Marika has withdrawn, pulling away from her boyfriend Seb when he tries to explain to her that talking about what happened would only be beneficial to her and to them as a couple. Marika has always been able to internalize her feelings and to detach herself mentally from what's she's seen during her career, and doesn't want help from anyone, especially from Seb. But when she discovers that her iconic idol, Robert Lewis, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, has committed suicide, Marika decides that she wants to write a book about Lewis. While she is gathering information and writing, she discovers that a missionary working in the wilds of Papua New Guinea has seen a man that he swears is Lewis and decides that she needs to go in search of him. For me, the best parts of the book were the scenes of Marika's time in New Guinea -- in the journey through the wilds and in the villages of the local natives. The scenes in the Congo and the story of Lewis in East Timor were raw and gritty, and very much worth the read. As far as characters, my favorite was Tobo, Marika's guide and the shaman of a local village in New Guinea. Salak's portrayal of Newlove, the missionary was also well done, even though he was a totally unlikeable character. The main characters were all a bit larger than life and I wasn't really impressed with any of them. Seb didn't come off as realistic (a bit too good to be true), and Marika's psychological issues made her at times not very likeable and I never really came away with the feeling that I'd bonded with her as a person. The dialogue was often stilted and unrealistic, especially between Marika and Seb. But Salak's novel tackles some important issues: how far can a person internalize pain and suffering without losing himself or herself, and at what point does one accept that sometimes no matter what you do, there's nothing you can do. I liked the book, didn't love it, but the writing was overall quite good, so much so that I'm planning to pick up some of Salak's nonfiction works. It's hard to believe that this is her first novel, and although this book was kind of overdramatic for me, it has received rave reviews elsewhere so it's something you'll just have to read it and judge for yourself.
  • (5/5)
    The White Mary,Marika Vecera is a determined, dedicated journalist who chooses to live life with little baggage. She lives in a sparsely decorated apartment with minimal material comforts. Cherished tokens from her travels serve as windows to her past. She has no permanent male companion and likes it that way. No attachment. She can pick up and leave to follow a story at any moment. She wanted to write, she freelanced and sold her stories, always risking personal injury and life threatening odds. It wasn’t easy in the beginning as she paid her own way to get to perilous places in order to report a story. Her hero is the famous journalist, Robert Lewis and has read everything he ever wrote. When she reads of his suicide she is devastated. Soon after, she decides to write a biography about his life. Contrary to her single lifestyle, Marika becomes involved with Sam Gilman, an “intense” doctoral student. Unaccustomed to deep relationships Marika is frightened as Sam tries to break through her desensitized cocoon. After a horrible fight, Marika leaves Seb. She learns that a missionary is quite sure he spotted Lewis living in a remote jungle village in Papa New Guinea. With rash determination she decides to follow the lead. Treacherous travel through leech invested swamps and the constant attack of mosquitos leads Marika to a village where she is called white mary. Her visit turns unexpectedly reflective when the protective shield that binds her ability to feel begins to unravel. Kira Salak’s personal experiences make this novel a realistically compelling read. A beautifully sensual book with poetic imagery that lives off the page. “Trees surround her like great columns in a cathedral. Birds announce the coming day with bold calls, and not even the faint drumbeats can overpower the incessant droning of insects.”I consumed this book without stopping. Reflective and mesmerizing,The White Mary, will be one for my 2009 top ten picks.
  • (5/5)
    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. Never once was my reading suddenly interrupted by any event that seemed unreal and made me aware that I was reading a work of fiction. The characters are interesting, all people who we come to care about and understand at a very a deep level. The book brought me to places I have never seen, never imagined, and made them as real to me as my own living room. The book's pages flow easily and you are constantly being pulled forward, wanting to know what will happen next. Once I started reading the book I ignored other plans and just had to keep reading until the end. Tobo, though a secondary character, I think is one of my favorites, his insights into life are really amazing. The physical and spiritual journeys in this book are wonderful, sometimes extremely powerful, and I am so glad that I was able to join Marika on her journeys. I loved that Marika was so realistic. She has all of the strengths and weaknesses that we find in all humanity. Marika represents us at the point in our life where we struggle out of darkness and into the light. The character Seb represents what we can become after reaching the lowest point and struggling through years of work to reach the highest point.Salak is a true master at the craft of novel writing and this is a powerful novel written on many levels. A book that should definitely be read.
  • (5/5)
    Kira Salak's "The White Mary" is a gripping first novel about one woman's journey to the end of the earth--otherwise known as Paupa New Guinea--and back. Salak's heroine, Marika, goes to PNG looking for the famous war reporter Robert Lewis. A war reporter herself, Marika goes into the jungle expecting an adventure, but instead undergoes a near death experience that changes her life. The novel flashes back and forth between Marika's time in PNG and her life in Boston before her trip, slowly exposing the heroine's demons to the reader. When Marika is forced to face who she really is in the depths of the jungle, the reader is pulled along through her emotional journey.I think Salak's novel is so gripping because the author herself is a war reporter, and many of Marika and Lewis' experiences are based on things the author experienced. When she describes the jungles of PNG or the African plains, you feel like you are really there. This realism does warrant a warning though--some passages of Salak's novel are graphically violent, so sensitive readers should beware. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a story about a strong woman, or a story of a woman finding herself. This is very much a modern "Heart of Darkness" so be ready!
  • (2/5)
    Kira Salak is an award-winning journalist and travel writer, who was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea, so it comes as no surprise that her debut novel features a female journalist, Marika, trekking through remotest Papua New Guinea. The book tries to combine the arduous, almost impossible trek which is motivated by Marika’s compulsion to find a missing journalist, with her doubts and insecurities about her deepening relationship with Seb, a psychologist who has a decidedly more compassionate view of the world than Marika, who in her journalistic pursuits has seen the worst mankind can dole out to one another (some of which is described in horrowing detail). The target of her search is Robert Lewis, a world-famous reporter whose suicide by self-drowning is left open for questioning since his body was never found. Marika is drawn into the hero-worshiping circle that surrounds Lewis, but she takes it one step further when she gets wind that he may still be alive and living in the jungle. There’s supposed to be a message here, possibly about not letting man’s inhumanity toward each other rob one of the ability to trust and love, but it all gets bogged down in poorly rendered, heavy-handed Conradian darkness, stereotypical unsavory missionaries, and poorly written love-is-real revelations. For more entertaining novels I’d suggest both At Play In The Fields of the Lord, or Poisionwood Bible. Or stick with Heart Of Darkness for the real thing.
  • (4/5)
    The White Mary ranks in my top 5 books of the year. Provided I got past some obvious but indirect disdain for Christianity at times, the story itself was and adventure worth taking. The novel is about Marika Vecera, a foreign journalist, who ventures into the most remote, most dangerous places she can find. In doing so, she seems to toss her soul from place to place hoping something, or someone that can awaken its true purpose and she can ultimately find joy and love.Marika is a strong female character, who loses her Mom not physically, but in mind, when her Mother loses her mind. She has already lost her father, so Marika goes to live with relatives, and by thirteen, wins a scholarship to boarding school, where she finds herself on her own from that point on. Her hero through her school years is foreign journalist Robert Lewis. Robert Lewis is assumed dead due to a suicide note, and in researching a biography she is penning about him, she uncovers clues that he may still be alive. Marika sets out on a treacherous journey through the forests of Papua New Guinea, where amazing events, scenes, people, and places play out in a story that dwarfs the likes of Indiana Jones and other adventure tales. With Marika’s guide Tobo beside her most of the way, Kira Salak provides two voices for this captivating journey of the body and the spirit. If you love adventure and the exploration of other cultures and places, you’ll love this book.
  • (3/5)
    Journalist Marika Vecera discovers reason to ask a question: Did her idol, acclaimed journalist Robert Lewis, commit suicide as widely reported -- or is he living in seclusion, deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea? To answer, this white mary (“white woman”) travels to Papua New Guinea and hires a native man, Tobo, to guide her through the jungle in search of Lewis.It took me fully two weeks to read the first half of this novel, which is mostly backstory involving unsympathetic characters and under-motivated events -- Lewis, Marika, her previous assignments, her love interests. And the narration took some acclimation -- objective and unemotional, more like reportage, bouncing from person to person sometimes by page or even paragraph.But when the story finally returned to Marika’s journey through the jungle -- well, the pages flew! I loved the guide, Tobo, and felt honored to peek into the mind of such a wise man; I was fascinated by the jungle setting and its tribal societies -- so far outside my own experience. They make me grateful to have read this book, and interested in pursuing Salak's nonfiction. And should she write a follow-up novel involving Tobo, I’ll be first in line at the bookstore.
  • (4/5)
    ARC Review: A quick moving story of a mid-30's war correspondent who had seen things that few Americans ever had. She journeys to the Papua New Guinea region to search for a missing man, whom she had always idolized, to confirm his death. This is a truly eye opening story of not only the horrors that we humans do to one another but also that we do to ourselves.
  • (4/5)
    While on a sort of "working vacation" I finished reading The White Mary by Kira Salak. I'm having some difficulty writing a review of this book. Not because the book isn't good, quite the contrary, it is an excellent novel. I think the problem is that this novel is difficult to categorize. The novel follows a young journalist, Marika Vecera, as she risks her life in war zones throughout the world. The atrocities she documents and the threats to her own life are portrayed with such detail, you wonder if the author of the novel has lived this herself.Marika admires another older journalist, Robert Lewis, and aspires to emulate his life. When he commits suicide, she focuses her energies on writing a biography about him. In her research, she stumbles across a letter to his sister indicating that he may still be alive and living in the deepest jungles of Papua New Guinea. Marika enters the jungle to search with a primitive tribal guide. Again, the novel is written with such detail that you wonder how much time the author herself has spent amongst these primitive tribes far from civilization.Although the novel is a wonderful story, part travelogue, part National Geographic/Discovery Channel special, it is ultimately a story about Marika and her personal journey toward discovering all that life has to offer us. It is a story about the choices we all have that can bring us either happiness, contentment and joy; or keep us restless, unfulfilled and alone. The book shows masterfully that striving for peace and happiness in one's life isn't merely an invention of the civilized world, but something everyone, from primitive tribal shaman's to educated PhD's seeks.I found this an interesting novel, well written and completely enjoyable. Marika draws conclusions in the end, that seem to coincide with my own perspectives on life. I certainly have never lived a life like Marika's and never will, but I have always believed that being happy is a choice we can all make for ourselves.
  • (4/5)
    Kira Salak’s The White Mary is an engaging read. Journalist Marika Vecera has a history of working in dangerous war zones to document the atrocities and suffering of people around the globe. She was inspired at an early age by the work of another risk-taking journalist, Robert Lewis. When she learns of Lewis’ disappearance which is attributed to suicide, she is shocked and decides to write a biography of his life. During her research for the book, Marika comes across a letter from a missionary in Papua New Guinea, stating that Lewis was sighted there after his supposed death. Marika decides to search for Lewis. This takes her into the deepest jungles of Papua New Guinea. Much of the book tells of her struggles there. The sub-plot of the book is Marika’s romantic relationship with psychologist Seb Gilman. Sensing that Marika’s difficult life has lead her to expect sorrow in the world and distrust any feelings of happiness she may have, Seb works to help her acknowledge her feelings. The real theme of the story is Marika coming to terms with her life and her feelings.The arrangement of the book is well thought out. Salak changes the pace of the story by interspersing the trek through the jungle with scenes from Marika’s life in Boston with Seb. She also adds in a scene from Marika’s previous assignment in the war-torn Congo. The story flows nicely and the reader doesn’t get bogged down in the dreary trudge through the jungle. Missionaries make a brief appearance in the book. Marika discovers that one is abusing the young girls he comes into contact with. I was bothered by the fact that Marika does nothing about it when she meets the man’s superior. I would have understood if the character at that point felt too weary to protest, but I wish Salak would have addressed the issue, rather than just having Marika merely give the man a contemptuous look. It seemed out of character to me. The setting of the book was fascinating. Some of the descriptions of PNG tribal culture seemed unrealistic, but Salak was a journalist herself, and wrote another book about her experiences in PNG. This leads me to believe that her descriptions are authentic. This was a fast-paced and entertaining read.
  • (4/5)
    Marika Vecera is an talented journalist who has traveled to the most troubled parts of the world and risked her life to witness war, genocide, torture and famine. She has learned to push her emotions down and keep others at an emotional distance in order to do her job. Robert Lewis is the person who inspires her - a elusive, troubled, and hard-edged journalist who rarely gives interviews. When Marika learns that Lewis has apparently commited suicide (although his body is never recovered), she decides to hunker down in Boston and write Lewis’ biography, while tentatively exploring a new relationship with the sweet and perceptive Seb. But when an elderly missionary reveals he may have seen Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea after Lewis’ supposed suicide, the information motivates Marika to leave everything she knows to search for him.Kira Salak, herself a noted journalist, writes knowledgably about Papua New Guinea - an exotic place which homes virtually all of the known species of birds of paradise, as well as more kinds of orchids than any other country. But is is also 85% tropical rain forest and jungle buzzing with insects, and filled with swamps, leeches, crocodiles, and snakes. It is here were most of the novel takes place - plunging Marika into a harsh environment filled with danger. There are graphic descriptions of rape, torture and murder as Salak tells Marika’s story which is really about one woman’s journey from despair to hope.At times the narrative felt emotionally detached - a parallel to the Marika’s character - as though the reader was sitting from afar and watching the tale unfold. Nonetheless, I was gripped by the story and horrified by the more graphic images. Like all good stories, this one had me turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed.The White Mary is Salak’s first novel, although she has written two non-fiction books and been a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine. Salak has won the PEN award for journalism as well. Here is an author who is as interesting as her work - and for that alone, I would recommend reading this book. Be forewarned, however, it is not a novel for the faint of heart.The White Mary is due to be released by Henry Holt and Company in August 2008.
  • (4/5)
    Marika Vecera is a young but accomplished journalist. She's spent her adult life traveling to remote and dangerous areas in search of her next story. After a particularly brutal assignment in the Congo, Marika returns to her home in Boston to learn that a fellow writer she's long idolized, Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Lewis, has committed suicide. Amidst a series of self-destructive escapades, Marika decides to write his biography. While researching her story, she discovers a letter from a missionary claiming to have stumbled upon Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Her journey to discover the truth is ultimately a journey of self-discovery.Kira Salak is herself an award-winning journalist who has obviously spent a great deal of time in the areas about which she writes. Her vivid depictions of Papua New Guinea are so intense, you'll feel as though you're trudging through the jungles, machete in hand, right along with Marika. It is this quality that I feel really makes this book worth reading.Descriptions of Marika's travels are interspersed with flashbacks of her downward spiralling love life. While I suppose these chapters give the reader a further glimpse into Marika's psyche, I think they also serve only to make her a far less sympathetic character. She's not someone I would ever want to know. In fact, I found her a bit too self-righteous in all her faults. I could easily have done without back information on all of her sexual exploits.Fortunately, the guts of the book center around Marika's search for Robert Lewis and her experiences in PNG. Salak is obviously a talented writer and her ability to keep the reader interested creates a story that is truly captivating. I think I would have preferred if it had been written more as a memoir with more focus on the travels and less on Marika's internal conflicts, but overall, I thought it was a great debut novel (Salak has written other works of non-fiction). It's not light reading, but it's full of adventure and excitement and a good read overall.
  • (3/5)
    Marika, a thirty something journalist, is emotionally cut off from her life due to early loss of her father (shot when she was 6) and her mother who never recovered. She has made a career traveling to dangerous war zones and reporting on those adventures. After a particularly tough trip and the suicide of Robert Lewis, a journalist whose written helped her choose the career path, Marika decides to write about Rober Lewis' life and try out having a relationship with Seb. After difficulty in her relationship, Marika decides to see if she can track down Robert Lewis in Papau New Guinea after reading a letter to his sister.Quite a few descriptions of the war zones were hard to read but overall I found the book easy to read in a few days.
  • (3/5)
    Marika Vecera is a journalist with no fear. From the time she was twenty years old she has thrown herself into the most dangerous places on earth for the sake of getting to the heart of whatever conflict, genocide or famine that she is researching. And she has succeeded brilliantly, becoming an award winning writer, though it has cost her dearly. More than she even realizes. When she meets Seb Gilman and falls in love, she decides that it might be time to take a break. It was easy to place no value on her own life when she had no close family or loved ones. But now Seb, of course, wants to protect her and keep her away from danger. Marika realizes that she has avoided serious relationships up to this point for that very reason, but will try to change for his sake.She decides to write a book. A biography of a legendary journalist named Robert Lewis, who has been like a mentor and father figure to Marika for most of her life, though she has never met him. Her meticulous research involves interviewing family and friends of Mr. Lewis, reading everything that he wrote and watching interviews that he did. She can't talk to him, though, he committed suicide the year before by drowning himself. Or did he? A letter from an elderly missionary falls into Marika's hands. He says that he saw Robert Lewis in the jungle of Papua New Guinea after his reported suicide. No one believes him. But the seed has been planted and Marika feels the need to find out for herself. Never mind that no sane person would venture into the deep jungles of PNG. Without even realizing what she is doing, she instigates a break with Seb so that she will be free to do what she wants to do.Her journey into the jungle will come close to killing her but will also be a revelation. Her guide is a native witch doctor, Tobo, who reluctantly leads this strange woman where she wants to go. He saves her life repeatedly and teaches her surprising things about the world and herself. When reading the descriptive scenes in the book of war zones and cruelty you realize that the author has been there, there is the ring of truth about them, she has seen them for herself. The experiences of cutting through the jungle, the heat, the smells and sounds, are very clearly described. The author's personal experience shines through. I think that there is much of Kira Salak in Marika Vecera. It's a very interesting book about a woman trying to understand herself and unravel her motivations.The White Mary by Kira Salak will be published by Henry Holt in August, 2008.
  • (4/5)
    This is an ARC I received through Shelf-Awareness.Marika Vecera is a 32 year old war journalist who finds what fulfillment she feels through her job, not through relationships. In fact, her most intimate relationship seems to be with a man she doesn't even know: Robert Lewis, the famous journalist who inspired her to choose the career path she did. Between her emotional scars, which she tries to keep buried as deeply as possible, and her job, which requires her to travel to extremely dangerous locations on a regular basis, it has always just seemed easier to be alone.Then she meets Seb, a Boston psychology student who wants her to talk about her past and to build a lasting relationship. At the same time, she learns that Robert Lewis has committed suicide in Malaysia. Deciding to write Lewis's biography, she buries herself in her relationship and research and, for a while, seems happy and stable. Then, while doing some final research, she finds a letter claiming that Lewis might still be alive somewhere in Papua New Guinea. Torn, Marika has to choose which path to take- whether she should (or even can) try to find stability with Seb or chase after a dream in the jungle. Journalist that she is, she can't resist the lure of a story, no matter how deeply she must enter the jungle to find it.The White Mary is actually a lot less of a romance than my summary (or the other summaries I've read) make it sound, but somehow that's the way it comes out. In truth, this book spends the bulk of its time describing Marika's travels to war-torn countries, both past and present, and the harrowing experiences she has in those places. The story line jumps back and forth, between the present-day, when she's in Papua New Guinea, the recent past, when she's trying to have a relationship with Seb, and the more distant past, when she went on other foreign assignments. It's not actually hard to follow in the least, but it is hard to explain.The strengths of this book are the descriptions of Marika's adventures. The author does a great job of expressing to the reader the utter foreignness of some countries, and the way in which the rules we all take for granted simply don't apply. I think some readers might assume that everything Ms. Salak describes is fantasy, but, having traveled in some pretty out-of-the-way places myself, I didn't find the scenarios she describes implausible. I would hope that others will read this, if only to get a sense of what really is happening in so many parts of the world, a sense that I fear most people in the Western world lack.The weak point of the book is definitely the romantic part. The writer is clearly an experienced writer, but it feels like she isn't used to writing fiction, especially of a romantic nature, and many of the scenes between Marika and Seb come out sounding really false. Seb is, I think, supposed to be a really amazing guy, but he struck me as two-dimensional, and my main reaction was to want to slap him really hard, just to see his Buddha-like response. Maybe I'm a cynic, but he seemed so 'perfect' as to be infuriating. In the end, although the relationship did give the author a way to analyze Marika's psyche, I wish she had chosen another way, since for me it detracted from the rest of the book. In future books, however, one can hope that this promising writer will sort out those kinks and improve her fiction writing, especially in the field of romance, while keeping her passion regarding her subject matter.
  • (3/5)
    "The White Mary" is the story of Marika, a journalist who travels to Papua New Guinea in search of her childhood hero, Robert Lewis. Lewis was pronounced dead after an apparent suicide, but a missionary claims to have seen him alive in the jungle. Unfortunately for Marika, she takes the wounds and struggles of the past into the jungle with her, and finds her emotional difficulties are just as bad as the practical difficulties of jungle travel.I was excited to read this novel by Kira Salak because I gave serious consideration to becoming a foreign correspondent, but after reading about some of the horrors experienced by Markia and Lewis, I'm glad I didn't. Salak does a good job of making the reader feel some of the horror and revulsion experienced by her characters in war zones without resorting to gross-out tactics. The book also excels in showing the different attitudes and beliefs of the Guinean tribes featured without looking down on them.My main quibble with this book was the ending so stop reading now if you don't like spoilers. Basically after a lifetime of misery and commitment issues, Marika comes out of the jungle with all of her emotional issues resolved. While I don't have a problem with that resolution, I do wish that her transformation had either not been so complete or not so sudden. It seemed to this reader that her night with Lewis "cured" her, which felt unsatisfying.Overall, this was a pleasant read. I would recommend it to people with an interest in books set in island cultures and who don't mind a somewhat unlikable protagonist.
  • (3/5)
    This is the first novel by adventurer/journalist Kira Salak. The author's note states the much of the book is based on personal experiences. This is the story of adventurer/journalist Marika Veccera, her travels around the world and her journeys to find her writing idol- and while she's at it, herself.Salak has been to Papua New Guinea herself and wrote a non-fiction book about it. This came through in vivid colors, as the sections that took place in the jungle were believable and fascinating. When Marika was in PNG, it was hard for me to put the book down. Other visits to far off locales were not as riveting, but still interesting.Unfortunately, part of the book takes place in Boston, and involves a love interest that seems fairly unbelievable as a character to me. The dialogue between the two main characters seems forced at times, and occasionally caused me to chuckle in disbelief. A few other of the stateside characters seemed forced as well, although her visits to Missouri were interesting and well done.In all, this was a decent book that definitely kept my interest. It succeded with flying colors as an adventure story, did a decent job with its religious and philosophical overtones, and missed the mark (for me, at least) when it came to romance. If adventure is what you seek, The White Mary may be worth your time- for me, I plan on seeking out Salak's non-fiction work- her eye for detail in exotic lands is apparent here, and likely works well in that context.
  • (4/5)
    Just finished reading an ARC for The White Mary by Kira Salak. I was not familiar with Salak at all, although I may try to seek out her non-fiction just to find out more about the areas she's been in. As for this adventure into fiction, it was interesting after a slow start. The initial chapter delivers, as promised, a trip into the depths of Papua New Guinea with Marika Vacera, a journalist in search of another American journalist. However, the story then takes a long break from that plot line into her past - a lover, a near-death experience. In the end, I'm not sure that these excursions add all that much to the story. It does lend some depth to her character, but I found the search for Robert Lewis and his character much more interesting. I could have done without reading Marika's recent sexual history. Still, the main storyline with the search for Lewis and Marika's trip through the uncharted wilds of PNG was interesting and I enjoyed that. Salak's writing style is a bit straightforward....the reporter in her, I suppose. There is not a lot of beautiful descriptive language....and I often found her technique of switching between the thoughts of the various characters a bit annoying - it did not always flow very well. Yet it could give insight to the view of the white Americans versus the natives.While some customs and beliefs of those natives are covered, they are not the focus of this writing. And, while she creates a missionary character, that, I assume gives us her impression of them in general, this is not a book out to make political points. It is a story, an adventure, of personal growth for the main character. The ending was a bit quick and tidy, but overall, the story held my interest once it got back to the main plot line. A nice attempt for a first novel.
  • (5/5)
    I have always been a fan of travel and adventure books, both fiction and non-fiction, which is what drew me to Kira Salak’s book, The White Mary. Although the book is a work of fiction, she drew on her long experience as a travel journalist to present a story full of detail and vibrant description. It is immediately apparent that the author hasn’t just watched a National Geographic Special on Papua New Guinea, she has actually been through that jungle. It adds tremendously to the story.Marika is a travel journalist who has been to some of the most violent and dangerous places on the planet. She lost her father when she was very young; he was executed in Czechoslovakia as a spy. She lost her mother to mental illness – more gradual, but no less painful. She has risked her life countless times in her need to tell a story. That need and that lifestyle have kept her separated from other people. Separation is comfortable for her, since so many important people in her life have left her.Her current project is the biography of one of her heroes, the man who inspired her to become a journalist, Robert Lewis. While reviewing some background materials, she finds a letter from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis recently, in Papua New Guinea. Fleeing problems in her personal life, Marika heads for PNG, looking for her own Holy Grail.There are a few things that bother me in this book. Marika is a bit of a superwoman – no matter what the jungle throws at her, she keeps on going. Seb, her boyfriend back in Boston, is too good to be true. He’s handsome, rich, single, understanding…absolutely perfect. Her native guide, Tobo, is also too good to be true, never deserting her, even when she’s obviously a little nuts. Still, this is a great tale of adventure, a story about finding yourself, a story about the futility of running from your problems.
  • (5/5)
    I am pretty certain that I will never have the opportunity to visit Papua New Guinea, but thanks to author Kira Salak, I feel like I have had a grand tour of this beautiful island. The author’s own travels in this country shine through in her writing and lend an authenticity that is sometimes missing in contemporary fiction. My next purchase will be her non-fiction account of traversing the country, Four Corners.The White Mary centers on journalist Marika Vecera, who has found fame in her field by traveling to the most dangerous locations to report on the inhumanities of war and cultural genocide. She owes much of her fame to Robert Lewis, an older journalist who inspired her from a young age. While this simple story forms the background for the novel, the author leads us, through two story lines, to a state of love and redemption. Marika has had a difficult life as she and her mother fled Czechoslovakia after her father was executed as a dissident. She has seen terrible acts of violence and endangered her own life to further her career. Early in the story, Marika meets Seb, a psychologist who falls in love with her. Their relationship grows but Marika is unaccustomed to being cared for and cannot return his love. After a miserable argument with Seb, Marika sets out to look for Robert Lewis who is presumed dead by his own hand, but has been sighted in a remote village in Papua New Guinea. The second half of the novel focuses on this quest and the vivid descriptions engage the reader fully. I could not put the book down until I knew the answer – What if Lewis isn’t dead? Marika is joined by Tobo, a witch doctor, who serves as her guide, and together they make a slow journey through the thick jungles and over the high mountains to the village, where Lewis was supposedly spotted by a missionary. They encounter a number of tribal communities and Salak brings the cultural differences, even among the different tribes, to the forefront of the story. You will need to read the book to see if Marika finds Lewis, but I think it is safe to say that she found her will to live, to love, and to embrace happiness even in the face of global sadness.I absolutely loved this book. I enjoyed the methods employed by Salak to introduce us to Marika. Her story unfolds slowly as she considers her life, the choices she has made, and the horrors she has witnessed during her quest. Tobo also lends a fascinating voice, explaining tribal culture to both Marika and the reader. To add depth to the novel, many of the tribal members also have strong voices in the novel. Whether you consider this cultural anthropology, a mystery, or just a wonderful novel, I think this book will delight you. I sincerely hope that the author is working on her next story, although this one might be difficult to top.