The White Mary by Kira Salak

Marika Vacera is a journalist who has written about some of the most dangerous and horrific conflicts in the world. She has just returned from an terrifying assignment in the Congo when she learns that Robert Lewis, another journalist and her personal hero, has committed suicide. Marika decides to write a biography of Lewis, and in the course of her research she comes across information that seems to indicate that he might not be dead – in fact, he might be alive in Papua New Guinea. Marika decides to leave Seb, the man she loves, and embark on a journey through the jungle to try and discover the truth. With only her native guide, Tobo, Marika struggles to stay alive long enough to find out whether Lewis is alive or dead.

This book is quite amazing. Kira Salak is an award-winning journalist, and many of the experiences that Marika has in the novel are Salak’s own. I truly do not believe that this book could have been written by someone who had not lived this life. Salak literally makes the jungle come alive – each page is brimming with details. The reader can hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see the sights that Marika encounters on her travels. Salak describes mosquite bites and leaches, as well as gun battles and torture, with the voice of one who has been there.

Salak also creates rich, interesting characters whose lives jump off the page. Marika is damaged, and the defense mechanisms she has built for herself are so strong that she is virtually unable to allow herself to be happy. Seb is wise and good, but with enough past baggage to be believable. Robert Lewis is weird, and difficult, but has moments of brilliance that allow the reader to understand why Marika has idolized him for so long. Tobo is perhaps the most interesting character – thrust into a situation he never wanted, he is patient but tough with Marika, and helps her make several very important discoveries about herself and her world. None of the characters are perfect – not even likable at times – but the flaws makes them seem completely real.

Salak has written a novel about journeys, and discovery, and figuring out what truly matters in life. I loved this book from start to finish, and will be recommeding it to everyone who will listen. Go read this book! It is brilliant, and will most certainly be on my list of favorites.

Finished: 7/9/08
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Elizabeth

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