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The White Mary: A Novel Hardcover – August 5, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A young reporter embarks on a dangerous adventure in Salak's gripping debut novel, a blend of Heart of Darkness and Tomb Raider. Like her protagonist, Marika Vecera, award-winning journalist Salak has traveled solo—and narrowly escaped death—in the world's most remote and terrifying places, including war-torn Congo and the interior of Papua New Guinea. Marika, an ambitious journalist, travels to discover the truth about war correspondent Robert Lewis, who has observed some of the modern world's greatest atrocities. He is believed to have committed suicide, but a letter from a missionary leaves Marika thinking he may still be alive in the wilds of Papua New Guinea. She sets off on her quest, and eventually malaria, ritual murder and arduous trekking through the wilderness lead Marika to some startling discoveries and a pathway out of her own past trauma. While the book can be harrowing (the graphic descriptions of torture are sobering and hard to put out of mind), it offers Marika a redemptive optimism in the face of the worst humanity has to offer. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Marika Vecera is a freelance correspondent, available to cover all the world’s wars and atrocities, hooked on the danger and anguished thrill of bringing news of incredible inhumanities to safer parts of the world. She herself is familiar with senseless suffering; she lost her father, a Czech dissident writer, to murder by the state. After coming too close to her own death in Congo, Marika returns to the tentative home she has made in Boston and meets Sebastian Gilman, a professor who tries to humanize her. But, eventually, she sets off again, this time to Papua New Guinea, to complete a biography of Robert Lewis, the Pulitzer-winning writer who inspired her own career. Her guide, Tobo, is skeptical of “the white mary,” who, in her noisy restlessness, fails to understand the most basic relationships between people and place. In search of Robert Lewis, Marika comes face-to-face with her own fears in the harshest test of faith and her ability to survive. Salak, herself a war correspondent, brings to life the incredible internal struggles for witnesses and reporters of war atrocities. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805088474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088472
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,810,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 flashback, 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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The main reason why I chose to read this book was the fact that I have just finished watching the last season of Lost which has rapidly turned into one of my favorite shows of all time and I needed a quick jungle fix to prolong the euphoria. Rather than just being a good read, "The White Mary" surpassed my expectations and was one of the best books I have ever read, I feel so lucky that I decided to read this!

Intense, addictive and at some passages almost unreadable but in a good way, the world of young journalist who decides to find her inspirational favorite writer Robert Lewis is turned upside down as she dives into a life changing adventure. Marika Vecera has had enough of dangerous journalistic work overseas in war ridden countries where murder and thievery rule daily life, when her relationship suffers at her own decisions she decides to follow hear heart and seek out the one man who can give her answers. The problem is that he has been proclaimed dead due to a suicide possible by drowning in Malaysia, but rumors that reach Marika about his sighting in the most remote jungles of Papua New Guinea spark her interest at finding him, no matter how dangerous the journey. When she starts looking for him her outlook on life is weak, she is not afraid of death but the more her life is threatened with various occurrences she learns new things about herself that open the reader's eyes to deep corners of our own souls. The journey is fascinating but the future often bleak and the reader never knows when it will all suddenly end. I can't remember the last time I was so engrossed in such a rich, beautiful novel.

Half way through reading this I looked up the author, Kira Salak and found her website.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Unfortunately, the author spends this entire book breaking the cliched cardinal rule of writing -- show, don't tell. For example, we're told about the protagonist's murdered father and insane mother. We're _told_. We are never shown any flashbacks in which these people are alive and relating to the protagonist. We're just supposed to swallow the scenario whole, and believe in it, care about it, for the balance of the book.

The book's third-person-omniscient point of view doesn't help matters. At some point, we're inside the head of nearly every character in the book, being told things rather than being shown them. Sometimes we're in more than one character's head in a single scene. Sometimes we're inside the "head" of something like a knife or a headache -- more than once, I noticed the author personifying objects and sensations. There was a headache or a fever that "wanted" to split somebody's head in two, or something like that. Lots of window dressing, but very little meaning.

The book tells nearly everything and shows almost nothing, and despite the author's seeming desire to be explicit, the writing remains imprecise. For just one of many possible examples of the imprecision -- at one point, the author describes a young government official as wearing a uniformly "solemn" expression, but a couple of sentences later notes that his eyes are darting around the room, which doesn't seem very solemn at all. The book is full of this type of garbled observation.

The characters are flat and expository. The romantic male figure, Seb, is meant to be sensitive and caring but he comes off sappy. It seems like Seb's character is propped up to show the reader how businesslike and non-touchyfeely Marika, the protagonist, is.
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