fashion_piranha (fashion_piranha) wrote,

The White Mary: A Novel by Kira Salak

The White Mary: A Novel
by Kira Salak

    Whenever I find a book is not immediately grabbing my attention, I give it the 100 page test.  If after so many pages I'm still not interested, I can cast it aside because the book was given a fair shot, and life is too short to waste on bad literature.

    The White Mary by Kira Salak is just such a book.  It sounded promising: the lead character is a female journalist named Marika Vecera who boldly goes where few dare travel in pursuit of a good story: war-torn Africa, the heart of the jungle in Papua New Guinea.  In an introductory letter included in the Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) Salak reveals that Marika is fairly autobiographical.  Like her creation Salak backpacked alone in Eastern and Central Africa, was nearly gang-raped by government troops, and canoed the wilds of Papua New Guinea.  These travels should lend authenticity to Marika's voyages - and they do.  Though melodramatic, the descriptions of boy soldiers in the Congo and secretive, isolated tribes in Papua New Guinea ring true.  The settings of the story are certainly credible, and fascinating.  As I read I find myself wondering just what it must have felt like for Kira Marika in these places, the emotions she felt and the impact it certainly must have had on her soul.

    Unfortunately, we don't get to find out.  While Marika is skilled at noticing physical details and ideas, her investigative reporting constantly fails to reach into the hearts of the people around her.  In the rainforest, her guide Thomas tries to talk her out of visiting the witch doctor Tobo because he is worried Tobo will curse them, for he is one of the most powerful doctors in the area.  Thomas is terrified of him.  Marika just throws more money in his direction, never really addressing his concerns.  Just keeps counting off bills for him 'til he does what she wants.  In fact, this is Marika's major way of solving problems.  Tobo won't help her with what she needs?  Offer him more money.  Soldiers in former-Zaire think she's a spy sent by their enemies?  Bribe them to let her escape.  Thank goodness she's a rich American, because if money can't solve her problems she'd be stuck.  None of these men care about her as a person, because she doesn't let them get to know her, and she doesn't care about any of them.

    Scratch that.  On one of her trips back to Boston, her home base, she does find herself falling for a man named Seb.  He is sweet and understanding and rich and handsome and intelligent and kind and - frankly - far too good to be true.  If Marika is a fictionalized version of Salak, Seb is an even greater fiction, for he has no real world counterpart.  He is created solely to exist for Kira's Marika's pleasure.  Seb is head over heels in love with this woman.  She claims that he awakens new feelings she hasn't experienced in years, if ever.  But this reader is not convinced: Marika makes Seb wait several months into their relationship before she sleeps with him, because she wants it to be special (or something.)  Then she goes to Africa and is nearly gang-raped.  On return, she hunts down her favorite booty call and sleeps with him after one drink.  Poor, poor Seb.  Good thing he's not real, just a figment of Kira Salak's imagination!

    Perhaps Marika would be capable of love for Seb wasn't already passionately obsessed with Robert Lewis, a missing Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist.  In spite of the fact she has never met him Marika thinks of Lewis constantly and fantasizes about meeting him.  Whenever she meets a fellow journalist she manages to bring Lewis up.  In a heart so full of herself and her idol, there just isn't any room for Seb.

    Again, I didn't finish the book so I can't tell you how it ends.  Maybe it gets magnificent after page 111, where I clocked out.  But I doubt it.  The writing is descriptive, but lacks depth and substance.  Dialogue, too, is static.  I can't provide a quote for you as this was an ARC, but on one page the word 'says' appears eight times.  One page.  It is literally 'he says'/'she says'.  Ouch.  The prose is also littered with sentence fragments; we are meant to feel with Marika as she lives in the moment but instead it feels sloppy and disjointed and the reader is pulled out of the story's momentum.  

    Kira Salak, I really wish you had just taken your experiences and written some straightforward memoirs.   I can't prove it, but I suspect  it would have been far more realistic, heartfelt, and memorable.

Buy the book on, or add it to your wishlist.
Tags: ***, 2008, 21st century, boston, boy soldiers, congo, fiction, journalists, memoirs, mystery, papua new guinea, r2008

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