The White Mary

By Kira Salak

The Short Take:

Finally! A woman gets to do the brave adventurer thing and traipse through the uncharted jungles of Papua New Guinea on a search mission. But this adventure novel also explores the themes of loss, acceptance, and redemption. While not exactly a thriller, it is a real page-turner.


Combine Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, then swirl in some of the Stanley and Livingston saga and you have an idea of the scope of Salak’s first novel. Well, maybe that’s overstating it just a bit – with regard to Oz. But off hand I can’t think of another book where a woman undertakes a serious adventure journey.

The White Mary of the title refers to main character Marika Vacera, a successful war reporter who keeps her emotional life bottle up while risking death to expose human suffering.

Author Salak actually was the first woman to journey through the jungles of Papua New Guinea, so she knows what she is writing about as she sends her protagonist on a jungle trek. The swamps, thorns, leeches, unfriendly locals, and other dangers all have a firm basis in reality that possibly only Salak could accurately convey.

But this is no mere adventure. Marika is a damaged soul, willing to die for others but incapable of personal attachment. Her journey through the jungle with no supplies and a single guide reflects the personal journey she must make to open herself to love and possible happiness.

As in Conrad’s book, this journey is also a search of a legend – Marika’s Kurtz is a famed reporter who may have faked his suicide and is now living in the remote mountains of PNG. What she finds at journey’s end is also a new beginning.

While some might object to the back-and-forth through time structure of the book, I like the way it slowly revealed Marika’s relationship with her lover, Seb, as she headed deeper into the jungle. I do have quibbles with the reality factor of that too-perfect-too-be-true love interest, however. Regardless, this book was practically impossible to put down. How great to find a female protagonist of this nature! Not some super woman but a real, conflicted human with inspirational endurance and drive. Whether or not Marika finds what she seeks, if you seek TheWhite Mary out, you’ll find one good read.

Want Some Plot?

War reporter Marika Vacera thrives on danger – but her new relationship with Seb is danger of a different kind. After returning from a nearly fatal reporting trip in the Congo, she finds it particularly hard to allow the intimacy Seb pursues.

Marika finds distraction in writing a book about her personal hero, Robert Lewis. In his papers she finds a letter suggesting Lewis is not dead but living in Papua New Guinea. She decides to venture to PNG and find Lewis, at the same time avoiding the damage she has inflicted on her relationship with Seb.

The treacherous journey through PNG comes close to killing her. If not for the wiles of Tobo, the witch doctor who guides her, she would never have made it. But not even Tobo can save her from what she finds when she reaches the Walwasi village where Lewis may be.

Find out more about Kira Salak by clicking here.

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