Friday, July 9, 2010

The White Mary Review

The White Mary by Kira Salak

(from the book jacket)
Marika Vecera, a seasoned war reporter at thirty-two, is on assignment in the Congo when she’s captured by rebel solders and nearly killed. Making it home to Boston, she finds herself drawn into a relationship with Seb, a psychologist who offers her glimpses of a kinder world. But when she learns about the suicide of her hero, Robert Lewis, the famous Pulitzer-winning journalist, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever recover from the loss. She begins writing his biography, only to receive a shocking letter from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis alive in a remote jungle in Papua New Guinea. She can only wonder, What if Lewis isn’t really dead?

Marika is determined to find out if the letter is true. Leaving Seb, she embarks on a grueling journey through one of the most dangerous places on earth. She is guided by Tobo, a witch doctor who shows her a magical world of tribal customs and taboo, where people live in fear of spirits coming for them in the night. A powerful and riveting tale, The White Mary carries the reader not only into the heart of a strange new world but into the depths of the human spirit.

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 selfish than damaged and hurt to me and I had a hard time liking her at all. Her boyfriend, Seb, is caring, loving, understanding and the most patient guy in the world and I want to like him but he starts to get annoying with his self help mantras and tendency to make long preachy speeches. I think the story gets better when she makes it to Papua New Guinea. Not only because there are no more awkward conversations between Marika and Seb but she is now on her quest across an inhospitable but interesting terrain and led by Tobo, who is by far my favorite character. Although there had been action before it turns into more of the adventure story I was expecting here where she has to fight against the jungle among a culture she does not understand amid conditions that she is not used to. But my dislike for Marika shifts my focus and instead of rooting for her to make it through I find myself, instead, feeling sorry for Tobo because this insensitive ‘white mary’ forced her way into his life and sticks to him like a burr no matter what he does. There were things that I liked here. I liked Tobo, he is an interesting character with depth and layers and it is fun to listen in on his thoughts. I like the way the perspective changes slightly throughout the book so you see things from different perspectives and get to hear the thoughts of all of the characters. I liked learning a little about Papua New Guinea, the culture and the land. And I liked the idea of the book, how Marika went on a physical journey to mirror the internal one she was making. But a lot of things seemed forced somehow. Seb’s message was too blunt and pushy. Marika’s obsession with Lewis too strong, her faith that finding him will save her and the world, too blind. Marika’s ‘ah-ha’ moment is a little too abrupt. I didn’t dislike the book but I didn’t exactly like it either. I did keep reading because I wanted to find out how it all turned out but was slightly disappointed when I did.

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