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The White Mary, Kira Salak

The White Mary is mainly the story of one woman, Marika Vecera, a magazine reporter whose life mission is to travel to all the dangerous parts of the world and report back on them.  The first half or so of the book alternates between these trips, a growing relationship with her boyfriend Seb that she never expected, and her dangerous search for older reporter Robert Lewis, her idol, in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  The second half focuses on her journey and is where she really discovers who she is, what she wants, and how to be happy.

I really, really liked this book.  Marika’s emotions and motivations and personality were so believable.  I’d be a bit more stunned by this if the author wasn’t a reporter herself, but even so, conveying it to that level in fiction is truly impressive.  The other characters were unfortunately a bit shadowy, but she really shines; this is her story and these are her discoveries.  I have never been to any of the places she visited and if we’re being honest here I have no urge to go (I’m no reporter), but with this book I felt that I was there when she was and experiencing the same dangers.  It’s hard to detach yourself from the narrative and I read it very quickly.

Plot moves along swiftly for the most part, though her struggles in the jungle and afterwards were a bit slower.  The interconnected storylines make sense and allow us to gradually understand Marika’s mission even as she goes forward with it.  The author does a very neat job piecing together her history so that we have the full picture by the time the book reaches its climax.

I think The White Mary is meant to be compared to Heart of Darkness, given that Marika travels into the center of the Papua New Guinea jungle, but it is so much better and since I’ve tried to block Joseph Conrad’s work from my mind, I cannot go into that here.

Overall, though, the book is about self-discovery, and Marika’s realizations towards the end made sense.  The author had been building up to them all along.  That didn’t stop them from having an emotional impact – I even cried at the end, and I haven’t done that for at least a year.  The book is very moving and the emotions all feel so real.  I’m impressed for a first-time fiction author.  I’d certainly recommend this book to someone else.

Release date: August 2008

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