The White Mary by Kira Salak


The White Mary by Kira Salak

The White Mary by Kira Salak

Title: The White Mary: A Novel
Author: Kira Salak
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Publish Date: 2008
ISBN: 9780805088472

The White Mary is journalist and author Kira Salak‘s first fictional novel. Salak opens the book with a letter to the reader explaining her own background and similarities to her main character, Marika Vecera, and with a little background of Papau New Guinea. As authors are so often advised to write what they know, Salak draws on her own experiences reporting in dangerous places and her extensive research of PNG for her book Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papau New Guinea. With her wealth of experience to draw on, Salak recreates an amazingly real world within the pages of The White Mary.

Marika Vecera is a broken soul. Experiencing pain and loss from the age of 6, when she lost her father in their native Czechoslavakia when he was executed as a spy against the communists. Her mother never recovered from the loss and eventually suffered a mental break, leaving her with schizophrenia. Marika has no one left in the world to care about her, and after reading a book by journalist superstar Rob Lewis, decides to follow in Lewis’s footsteps and becomes the rare female war reporter. Then when she least expects it, she finds love and the potential for happiness with Seb whose working on his psychology doctorate. When Marika hears the report of the suicide of her idol, Lewis, she decides to write his biography. While researching and interviewing Lewis’s sister, Marika comes across a letter that claims Lewis is still alive in Papau New Guinea. When she can’t get this idea out of her head, she decides to fly to PNG and find him.

This book is about one woman’s journey of learning to love and forgive herself, and to accept that life isn’t done to you, but that you have the choice to live in happiness or misery.

Real courage isn’t about visiting the world’s hells and returning alive to tell about it -it’s always been easy for her to risk her life, and even easier to get herself killed. What takes real courage is choosing to live, choosing to save herself at all costs. Which means looking into her darkness and pain, and figuring out how she got there, and how she can get out… She won’t do it just for herself, but for the world. For all the ugliness in it. And for all the grace.

The White Mary by Kira Salak, page 347

For my part, I could really relate to Marika. I understood her motivations, and could really feel for her. The walls she built to protect herself from pain, her distrust of anything good and happy, her self-destructive behaviors in order to not think or feel for five minutes, are all very real to me. The journey through Papau New Guinea was on the surface a search for her hero, but really it was a journey within herself and ultimately presented her with the choice of shutting down and becoming bitter and withdrawn or choosing a life of happiness and love and a part of society.

I would have to say, though, if you are religiously sensitive to polytheism, animism and atheism, this book might not be for you. Given the subject matter, you must realize it’s got a bit of an agnostic at best spiritual thread. It opens with a Gnostic quote, argues a angry, cruel and unjust god who plays favorites throughout the book, and ends with Marika acknowledging “God/the Universe/Whoever/Whatever” moves in the world. It weaves in a little Hinduism and Buddhism along the way, as well. And, for good measure, throws in a pervie pastor. It’s not specifically anti-christian, but it could offending the religiously sensitive.

Also, this book contains graphic imagery of rape, genocide, and torture. One particular scene towards the end is stomach turning and difficult to read. It has several graphic sexual passages, including outside the normal types.

One side note: I think The White Mary would make a brilliant movie. I think it would translate to the big screen very well. It’s full of exotic scenery, suspense and action, with a spirituality very popular today. The book had a Sean Connery’s Medicine Man feel to it with the surly antisocial doctor gone somewhat native and the outsider woman who finds him.


11 Responses

  1. One particular scene towards the end is stomach turning and difficult to read.

    I have a pretty strong stomach, but I honestly thought I was going to be sick when I read that passage.

    It’s not specifically anti-christian, but it could offending the religiously sensitive.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. I think some people may have problems with that aspect of the book — especially the seedy missionary. It’s not a book I’ll be in a hurry to recommend to most of the folks from my church, which is unfortunate, because there are some beautiful passages in the book. Many of the descriptions of the jungle are simply breathtaking.

  2. I had the same thoughts about the Medicine Man feel – though that was far lighter in comparison to The White Mary. I think if they would stick more to her journey through PNG, and avoid some of the (in my opinion unnecessary) episodes in the States, it would make a good, albeit somewhat disturbing, film. Heck, leave Seb out altogether, and they’d be headed int the right direction, if you ask me.

  3. Scary, Traci, but I was thinking the same thing about Seb. or at least cut out most of it. I think 2 or 3 scenes would be enough to get the feel of it. He was of some importance in the jungle, because what he deposited in her within their relationship is some of what her sould ate on in PNG.

  4. It sounds good, but intense. I need to start a “I’ll think about reading this later when I’m in a serious mood. Maybe.” list. This and Without a Backward Glance are going on the list.

    Hey, I sent you an email about How to be Lost…didja get it? If not, I need your address to send you the book. You can email me at fizzybeverage at gmail dot com

  5. Excellent review, Koolaidmom. The book’s not in my genre, but I find that doesn’t really matter as I enjoy a good review.

  6. I like @softdrink’s comment. I think I’m going to start the same kind of list, and this book will be on it. 🙂 Thanks for the intriguing review!

  7. Interesting comment about the book-to-movie possibility, and what you’d edit out (if you were in the director’s chair).

    I still haven’t cracked the spine on this book, but I appreciate the review/preview for when I get to it.

    (by the way, between the KoolAid and SoftDrink(s), your blog is making me thirsty 🙂 )

  8. Oh boy, I’m going to have to add this to my TBR list. Our friends are actually in flight to PNG right this minute to teach/be missionaries there for 2 years.

  9. I think the author was trying to use Marika’s various sexual experiences to depict her various emotional states of mind. It was effective, but disturbing, and I found myself wishing she had used a different picture for her degradation and self-loathing.

    I didn’t see it as particularly Christian-bashing, since the pervert missionary was balanced by the pastor who told her about seeing Lewis to begin with – he was portrayed as an honest man. But you’re right, I’m on the less hyper-sensitive spectrum of Christians, and others would probably be offended.

  10. I agree that she was showing Marika’s state of mind through the promescuity, and I completely understand the psychology. When I said it could be taken out for a movie come on, who am I kidding! Hollywood take OUT sex? lol!, I was simply speculating what could be trimmed out to fit in a 100 minute format.

    Interesting perspective of the juxtapositioning of the missionary and preacher.

    I know Christians who would burn this book on the animism alone. They’d never make it to the sex scenes, they’d lose it with the idea of the witch doctor. I’ve been to that church, actually. :-\

  11. This book sounds right up my alley…gotta stop reading this blog, I don’t think my exel spreadsheet can hold another book, lol!

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