Published: August 2008The Life: Kira Salak
Photo: Kira Salak

Kira Salak: Here There Be Monsters

From Tibet to Congo, Kira Salak travels on the edge. Her first novel goes beyond it.

Text by Michael Finkel
Photograph Lana Eklund

You probably wouldn’t want to take a trip with Kira Salak. And more to the point, she probably wouldn’t want you along anyway. Her expeditions are usually solo affairs, often dangerous, almost always uncomfortable, and frequently a hairbreadth from disaster. She’s been caught in a coup attempt in Bangladesh, chased by rebel soldiers in Mozambique, held at gunpoint in Congo, and hunted by a Tuareg gang in Mali. She’s survived malaria, dysentery, and cholera—and that’s the short list.

It’s far better to follow Salak vicariously, through her books and articles (including many for this publication). Her prose is luminous, often deeply personal, and transporting in the pan-sensory way that only the best travel writing can be. At 36, Salak has been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing five times. Her 2001 memoir, Four Corners: A Journey Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea, was the New York Times Notable Travel Book of the Year.

Now she has written her debut novel, The White Mary (available in August). It’s safe to say that you wouldn’t want to travel with Salak’s main character either. And vice versa. This 32-year-old journalist named Marika Vecera ventures, almost always alone, into the world’s most dangerous places. A war correspondent, Marika is the type of woman who casually cauterizes a machete wound to her neck with a tent pole she’s heated in her campfire.

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