Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The White Mary by Kira Salak

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8847-2
Publisher: Henry Holt
Hardcover: 368 Pages
Genre: Fiction
First Lines: 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 feelings.
One Word Review: Gritty
Tentative Release Date: August 2008

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.