Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The White Mary

Kira Salek

Available in paperback, Kindle, audio download and audio CD. Henry Holt and Co., 2008; ISBN: 0805088474; 368 pages.

Marika Vecera is a fearless intercontinental journalist, traveling to war zones many of her male counterparts avoid. When her idol, the famous Robert Lewis, commits suicide, Marika feels driven to write his biography. When a missionary from Papua New Guinea contacts her claiming to have seen Lewis alive after the date of his reported death, Marika drops everything to follow the lead. This sends her on a journey through uncharted jungles with nothing but the thread of conviction from a now dead missionary as evidence. The text contains several flashbacks that prove Marika's quest is as much a journey to find herself as it is to find the one who inspired her in the first place.

This book is intense. The first part of the book (first 30 pages or so) frustrated me with its incessant changes of time and place, but once it found it's groove, the story refused to let me go. And those background stories provided in the first sections were absolutely necessary for understanding the motivations behind our protagonist.

The main struggle in this book: how can one happily survive in a prosperous nation while fully aware of the devastating spread of poverty, genocide, war and exploitation around the world? The protagonist has seen more than she knows how to process. Throughout a long and arduous journey across continents, she discovers a way to put the pain of her past and her present in perspective. Her story intertwines adventure, mystery, psychology and anthropology. The authentic characters rival the intricate descriptions in beautiful harmony. It's a moving text, a brilliant first novel that draws heavily from the author's own experiences.

I highly recommend it with one warning: it's not a book for everyone. Some readers may take offense at the foul language and a few explicit sexual scenes (four that I can recall, including one date rape).

Final Thoughts: Overall, it's a fantastic read, particularly if you've ever experienced re-entry culture shock after living and working in undeveloped or war-torn areas.

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