Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Review: The White Mary by Kira Salak

Marika Vecera is a fearless war journalist, traveling to war zones that many male reporters have avoided. When her idol, the famous journalist Robert Lewis, commits suicide, Marika feels driven to write his biography. In the course of researching her book, Marika receives a letter from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis in Papua New Guinea. Marika drops everything to follow up the lead, embarking on a grueling journey that may cost the journalist her life. As the story progresses, we see that Marika’s quest is as much a journey to find herself as it is to find Robert Lewis.

The White Mary is one story told in two parts. The main part of the book covers Marika’s search for Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, while the events that drove her to that search are told in a series of flashbacks. These flashbacks, though insightful looks into Marika’s character, are the weakest points in the story. I found Marika’s interaction with her boyfriend Seb to be unrealistic. The dialogue between the two of them just felt stilted and forced. Marika is an interesting, multi-faceted character, but with each flashblack, I found her less likable. Her journey ultimately changes her for the better, but that change came too late for me.

There were elements of this book that I loved. Salak’s descriptions of the jungle are absolutely breathtaking. Tobo, Marika’s guide through the jungle, is a fascinating character. Clever, resourceful and wise, he saves Marika’s life on more than one occasion. Kira Salak, like Marika, is an accomplished war journalist, and her experience is evident in the descriptions of Marika’s time spent in various war zones.

The White Mary is gritty, intense and, at times, disturbing. There are graphic depictions of torture and rape, and one scene towards the end of the novel is so disturbingly vivid that it may turn even the strongest of stomachs.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. As I stated earlier, there were many things that I loved about this book, but in the end, the things I didn’t like stood out more. While I can’t give it an enthusiastic endorsement, I am glad that I took the time to read The White Mary.

Rating: 5/10

Buy The White Mary:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon


  1. Though I liked the story better than you did, I do agree with your point about Seb and the various flashbacks. It's almost as if she's dating her therapist. I couldn't stand such a relationship, personally. And that scene towards the end is incredibly graphic and very upsetting. I could have lived the rest of my life without that little word picture.

    I think I liked your review better than mine. I'm going to have to take notes on your review writing ;-)

  2. Good review. This was a book I really didn't care for, and I was not too kind in my review. Since I did not finish the book I didn't get to the gross scene at the end, but I think I'm thankful that I missed it.

  3. TheKoolaidMom: Thank you so much for the compliment on my writing. As someone who's new to reviewing, that was very encouraging.

    There was a line of dialogue where Seb said something to the effect of "Marika, I need you to come here and be honest with me." That was where the book lost me. It was like he was talking to a four-year-old, not a grown woman. I wouldn't be able to be in that kind of relationship, either. I hope, since this was an ARC, that the flashbacks in the finished book will be improved. It's a shame, really, because I would have liked this book a lot if the flashbacks had been more believable.

    Fashion-Piranha: Yes, if you're in any way squeamish, you're probably better off not having that scene stuck in your head. I normally have an iron stomach, but that scene was tough for me to read. I did feel that it helped the story -- it was very powerful and answered some big questions -- but just very, very graphic.

  4. You know, I thought the book was good, and reviewed it only a couple of days ago... and I for the life of me cannot remember the gross scene you're talking about.

    Lol I guess the book couldn't have been that good if I can't even recall it!