01 July 2008

24. The White Mary


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: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea.

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.

Thanks to Henry Holt & Company for the opportunity to read and review this brilliant

TITLE: The White Mary
AUTHOR: Kira Salak
COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 351
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: Strongly recommend to everyone

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1 comment:

Marie said...

I like your review of The White Mary- and agree wholeheartedly! :-) It was really terrific.