Kira Salak was named for an Ayn Rand character, and raised in a cold, lonely household that valued strength and discouraged displays of vulnerability. When she left home, her travels became a series of increasingly harrowing challenges, all aimed at answering one question: Could she get herself out? Her journey up and down the length of Papua New Guinea as a solo 20-something, the subject of Four Corners, was her riskiest trip yet.
Salak criss-crosses the PNG hinterland on foot and by boat, facing theft and extortion, illness and injury, murderous government operatives and armies of cockroaches along the way. The book is tense and packed with action, but it’s also deeply thoughtful: Why does she do the things she does? When will she stop pushing herself? Determined as she is to be tough, tougher than any man she encounters, Salak is also forced to confront the role gender plays in her travels. “Like it or not, my femaleness acts as a constant reminder that I’m stepping into an area where, even today, women aren’t often allowed,” she writes. “It’s hard to get cocky about any trip when I know that I carry along an additional liability most men can hardly fathom: the omnipresent possibility of rape. Sometimes I wonder where women might go, or what they might do, were it not for this fear holding them back.”