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The White Mary: A Novel

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  727 ratings  ·  198 reviews
Marika Vecera is a young war reporter who hears the news that her hero, famous war correspondent Robert Lewis, has committed suicide. As she begins working on his biography she gets word from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis alive. Astounded, Marika heads to Papua New Guinea to uncover the truth. Encountering the dangers of the jungle and native mythology, Marika ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Picador (first published August 5th 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,291)
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Lauren
Sep 23, 2008 Lauren rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adventure-seekers, people who like drama and action stories
Shelves: fiction
I read this book in anticipation for a lecture by the author at National Geographic later this month. I am familiar with Salak's nonfiction work about her own travels and experiences, and her first novel had many of the same elements that draw readers into the story.

Marika Vecera is a well-known war correspondent: she takes the dangerous and scary jobs in war-torn developing countries and has had more than one near-death experience. She starts a serious relationship and soon after learns about t
...more
Sandra
Ahhh...another book set in a warm climate. Marika is a war journalist who after being kidnapped (and escaping) decides to write a book about another war journalist (Robert Lewis). It is believed that he committed suicide. Robert's sister shows Marika a letter written by a missionary who believes that he saw Robert alive and in Papua New Guinea. Marika travels to New Guinea to find the journalist.
I liked the adventure parts of this book. It was interesting to read about her travels across New Gu
...more
Becky
This book suffers from the author failing to heed the cardinal rule of writing: show, don't tell. For example, we're told about the protagonist's murdered father and insane mother. We are never shown these people alive and relating to the protagonist. We're just supposed to swallow the scenario whole, and it doesn't work. 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 what they think an ...more
Bryn Greenwood
This is one of those books that is both deeply satisfying, yet oddly disappointing. It's clear from the depth of detail that Kira Salak knows Papua New Guinea, its landscape, its people, and its dangers. The parts of the novel that follow journalist Marika Vecera through the PNG jungles in search of her journalistic idol are compelling. The terrain is rough, many of the people hostile to a white woman, and she's tracking a man who is supposed to be dead of suicide.

Alas, the other element of the
...more
Amy
I am listening to this as an audiobook, and while the narrator is not helping any, I don't know if I am going to make it through this on its own merits. I should like this story. I like the idea of this story. When the story is focused on the search for Robert Lewis, I do like the story. But...Marika, the main character, is not likable to me, so I am not interested in her motivations. Her love interest, Seb, is a preachy, sanctimonious, new-agey bore. I admit it (somewhat guiltily), I read for p ...more
Cyanne
This one was worth it for the descriptions of life and travel in PNG, but the writing and overall story wasn't all that.

At one point the main character is held hostage in Congo, but then her transition back to the States leaves a little something to be desired. I am sure that Kira Salak (author) knows what she is talking about, but I wasn't really convinced that the main character was as emotionally bankrupt as we were suppose to believe.

The story line is interesting, but the take-home lesson
...more
Judy
Feb 16, 2012 Judy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: action/adventure lovers who aren't too squeamish
Recommended to Judy by: Chelsea
In the The White Mary: A Novel, Marika, a daring journalist, escapes to the uncivilized jungle of Papua New Guinea to find Robert Lewis, a famous journalist reported as dead. Marika's jungle travails mirror her personal life which is fraught with woes over the loss of the one man she truly loved, Seb, her carelessness with her own life, as well as her inability to commit to any relationship.

What I liked:
*Rumor has it, this book is based on Kira Salak's own life. This is believable,since, the de
...more
Dolly
This is a fascinating story. I received this book as a "First Reads" giveaway win and was anxious to read it. It was a very different story from many I have read recently and to be honest, the brutality, gore, violence and sexual exploitation was a bit graphic for my taste. But due to the nature of the story and the places that Marika and Robert visited, such graphic scenes were so integral to the story. I loved the visual and physical descriptions of her travels through the jungle. I felt like ...more
Laura
So, I read this for my book group, which is 9 women in their mid-60s and me. The woman who chose this one has always been rich (she told me once that she has never not had a housekeeper) and until recently did a lot of "exotic" foreign travel. This book seems to suit her very well... and I kind of hated it. A Czech-American war reporter travels to Papua New Guinea to find one of her journalism idols who disappeared. She leaves behind a too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in Boston who was *dramatic vo ...more
drea
It's hard to talk about this book without mentioning Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. The two books are kissing cousins, only The White Mary has daredevil journalists instead of corporate scientists, and a journey into Papua New Guinea instead of the Amazon. Both feature conflicted ladies marching off into jungles to hunt down a missing colleague and discovering things about themselves and their existing relationships in the process. And you know what? It turns out this is a formula that I like. ...more
Bethann
This was an interesting book. I would actually give it 3 1/2 stars if I could. Since it is told from the POV of a journalist, I of course, enjoyed that aspect of it. Salak's descriptions of Rwanda and Iraq and New Guinea were awesome and I plan to use excerpts in my Multicultural Literature class. I think the only part I didn't like was the actual romance, and that may have been because I listened to this on tape and I hated the narrator's voice for the boyfriend. Regardless, I thought their rel ...more
Lindsay
Reading Challenge: A book a friend recommended.
A good book, well written with a good storyline. But it was kind of serious, which isn't the type of books I usually read. Gives you a glimpse of what it's like to live in the jungle. I would not survive.
Kathleen Hagen
The White Mary,by Kira Salak, Narrated by Joyce Bean, Produced by Brilliance Audio, downloaded from audible.com

This was a debut novel by the author. I hope she has written more books since 2008.This book gives us one of the best descriptions I’ve read of PTSD possibilities among war correspondents. Publisher’s note in part says:
Marika Vecera, an accomplished war reporter, has dedicated her life to helping the world's oppressed and forgotten. After one of her dangerous assignments, she lives in B
...more
Rachelfm
I loved Kira Salak's "The Cruelest Journey" earlier this year, and while I couldn't have dreamed up a more punishing, remote adventure, Salak sure can. The trek into the heart of Papua New Guinea makes the solo kayak trip to Timbuktu look like a Sunday afternoon with a paddleboat. Since I've not managed yet to read "Four Corners," I'm not sure how the details of Salak's travels in PNG mirror those of the wait meri / in this novel, but it's very clear that Papua New Guinea is a place that Salak h ...more
Angie
Sep 11, 2008 Angie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: armchair adventurerers
Recommended to Angie by: National Geographic Adventure
Some very powerful imagery from this author. The description of the torture committed on Lewis in East Timor was nightmarish, even more so, since it probably really happens.

My favorite character though was Tobo, Marika's guide thru the Papa New Guinea jungle. His musings about the helplessness of the white ones were not only amusing but probably on target!
Corrie
This book was slow going in parts, but worth the read. The main character, Marika, is a war journalist, who travels all over the world to report on injustices, often risking her own life. The author's background made the book more appealing as well. Kira Salak was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea.
Anna
My stepmom bought me this book either for Christmas or my birthday. The cover entrances me, and I wonder if she bought it for me because I look like Marika. Or if because she thought I would enjoy the story.

When I started this book, my immediate instinct was to stop reading. Salak started writing with some overly dramatic self serving narrative, and it immediately rubbed me the wrong way. But, since this book was a gift, I didn't want to give up so easily. I'm glad I didn't.

It didn't take long f
...more
Annie
An evocative, but strange and disturbing tale of loss and redemption, set in Papua New Guinea. There were some interesting echoes of The Heart of Darkness (a quest into a malaria-ridden, forbidding jungle to find a missing person turns into a disturbing discovery of the evils of human nature), but without the qualities of Conrad's psychological depth and lucid prose. A fascinating setting, but the uneven characters never became sympathetic or even interesting enough for me to redeem themselves i ...more
Jodi
I'd like to give this 3.5 stars because the narration really made me feel like I was there in Papua New Guinea. Marika is a War Correspondent and has been for years. She's seen the worst humanity has to offer, has barely lived through some of it, but cannot settle down with the man who loves her, until she completes one more journey. Although this one is physically grueling, it is also mentally challenging in ways she never expected. Marika heads into the jungle of PNG looking for a dead man, Ro ...more
Lisa
I have always been a fan of travel and adventure books, both fiction and non-fiction, which is what drew me to Kira Salak’s book, The White Mary. Although the book is a work of fiction, she drew on her long experience as a travel journalist to present a story full of detail and vibrant description. It is immediately apparent that the author hasn’t just watched a National Geographic Special on Papua New Guinea, she has actually been through that jungle. It adds tremendously to the story.

Marika is
...more
Elevate Difference
Marika Vicera is a war reporter who has dedicated herself to telling the stories of oppressed peoples around the world. She is giving a talk at Boston University when she meets a psychology doctoral student named Sebastian Gilman. Seb, as he is known, is in awe of Marika's war reports, which have landed frequently on the covers of major newspapers. Although Marika doesn't think much of the practice of psychology, she is taken with Seb. Marika takes a break from her globe trotting to write a biog ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
The arduous journey of journalist Marika Vecera through the jungle, swamps, and mountains of Papua New Guinea to determine the verity of another journalist's (Robert Lewis) suicide forms the basis of this story of survival and redemption. Marika, a Czech immigrant to the US, has a sorrowful past. Her father was the target of a political execution and her mother descended into schizophrenia after his death. Marika was subsequently inspired by the writings of Pulitzer Prize-winning Lewis to become ...more
Fred
Oct 16, 2008 Fred rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who likes fiction/adventure fiction
Recommended to Fred by: Friend
The characters, scenes, events and descriptions of this book are so real that I found myself almost living Marika's life and experiencing her trials, tribulations, and successes in her amazing journey from traumatic events to a spiritual awakening. Never once was my reading suddenly interrupted by any event that seemed unreal and made me aware that I was reading a work of fiction. The characters are interesting, all people who we come to care about and understand at a very a deep level. The book ...more
Jesse
I acquired this book because it dealt with the jungles of Papua New Guinea, which is a place that you don't hear much about (here in the US) and I enjoy stories that take place in out-of-the-ordinary settings. My curiosity was also piqued by the fact that the author, Kira Salak, was actually the first Western woman to traverse the interior of Papua New Guinea, and also because she is an editor for National Geographic. I enjoy gaining new perspectives with what I read, and I figured I would defin ...more
Rebecca
The White Mary is more a story about self discovery than it is about a trip to Papua New Guinea. In fact most of the first half of the book has nothing to do with Papua New Guinea. You do get to know Marika and see all of the things that have happened to her and all of the things she has seen (some of them told in horrifying detail) that have led her to this place, both emotionally and physically. Unfortunately I never found her a very sympathetic character. She often seemed more petulant and se ...more
Carey
Marika Vecera is a journalist with no fear. From the time she was twenty years old she has thrown herself into the most dangerous places on earth for the sake of getting to the heart of whatever conflict, genocide or famine that she is researching. And she has succeeded brilliantly, becoming an award winning writer, though it has cost her dearly. More than she even realizes.

When she meets Seb Gilman and falls in love, she decides that it might be time to take a break. It was easy to place no val
...more
Betty-Anne
If I didn’t know right from the start that Kira Salak had lived through many of the experiences of her main character Marika Vecera, I would quite likely have guessed. It was evident in Salak’s honest depictions of both the good and the bad of the jungles in Papua New Guinea where the majority of the book is set.

The very richness of the writing in those sections of the book however, makes the other sections (Marika’s reminisces of her life) seem somewhat weaker. These reflections on her life, ho
...more
Susanna
I first heard of Kira Salak when listening to The Moth podcast. She told a story about how when she was a 20-year-old college student, she took a job and saved up enough money to get herself to Central Africa, where she intentionally backpacked/hitchhiked alone into Mozambique, which was in the midst of a bloody civil war. It was incredibly dangerous and she actually was captured by adolescent soldiers who planned to do some very bad things to her. She managed to escape, but the experience chang ...more
Ruth
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 ...more
Jeremy C.
Liked it and hated it. I just had to put it down half way through. There's just too much vulgar language and too much glorified illicit sexual descriptions that just make the book seem like a ridiculous soap opera or spanish novela... If you were to rate novels like movies it would likely be NC17.

I found it difficult to like the main character because she seemed very selfish and self absorbed. It seems like every character in the book was a slave to their sexual desires and I was left wondering
...more
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Adventure Reading: New Guinea adventure 5 14 Aug 04, 2012 04:10AM  
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Kira Salak won the PEN Award for journalism for her reporting on the war in Congo, and she has appeared five times in Best American Travel Writing. A National Geographic Emerging Explorer and contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine, she was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea and the first person to kayak solo 600 miles to Timbuktu. She is the author of three books— ...more
More about Kira Salak...
Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu Four Corners Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction

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“What I've learned is that everything in life - and I mean, even the worst of it - can be turned into grace...the test is - for even one moment in our lives - not to strike back at something, no matter how bad it gets...when you're faced with the temptation to get angry or upset and to hit back - you just don't do it. You let the temptation roll over you and not touch you. The idea is not to add to the collective pain...and by not doing so, you make the world a better place.” 4 likes
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