Thursday, March 27, 2014
Thirty Girls: A Novel by Susan Minot
The Long-Awaited Novel from bestselling, award-winning author of Evening is a literary tour de force set against the haunting canvas of war-torn Africa.
With gripping suspense and exquisite craft, Susan Minot interweaves the stories of two young women fighting for salvation in the face of ruinous brutality and loss. Esther is a precocious Ugandan teenager who is abducted from her Catholic boarding school by Joseph Kony's rebels and, along with twenty-nine of her classmates, forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities in the Lord's Resistance Army. Jane is a sensual, idealistic American writer often waylaid by romantic pleasures who has come to Africa hoping to regain her center after a devastating marriage. Absorbed into a group of glamorous, nomadic expatriates in a landscape of singular beauty and intensity, Jane is reawakened. But she is on a journalistic mission as well, hoping to give voice to the thirty abducted girls she first heard about back in America, and her reporting draws her ever deeper into Africa's dangerous heart - toward Uganda and toward Esther.
In unflinching prose, Minot brings Eshter's and Jane's journeys into startling alignment. Confronting the most acute dislocation and heartbreak, they travel inexorably toward each other, propelled by moments of shattering violence and the need to remake themselves in the shadow of it. Filled with an emotional nuance, formal daring, and stunning evocations of Africa's splendor and its struggles, Thirty Girls is Minot's most ambitious and luminous novel yet.
I read this book slowly and carefully. I wanted each word to sink in, because what I was reading was difficult to digest. Young girls taken in the middle of the night and forced to join a rebel group that would treat them as sex slaves. Not exactly a bedtime story. Of course, this wasn't just a story - it was a true story. Based on actual events that occurred in Uganda: thirty girls were taken from their beds one night and forced to join the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army - Joseph Kony's henchmen). These young girls were subjected to horrors beyond our imaginations and somehow they found a way to escape from it all. This book shares their stories and so much more. I felt emotionally and mentally spent after reading Thirty Girls, but also more aware.
Minot has written a novel that explores violence, loss, and love in such raw and brutal way that you can't help but be captivated by what you are reading. The writing is beautiful, almost poetic really. And the stories are beyond heartbreaking and terrifying. So many questions will run through your head while you read this book and long after you put it down. I couldn't help but wonder how these children were capable of surviving such an ugly reality - Where did their courage and strength come from? How could they muster an ounce of hope when facing such dire circumstances? Of course, I also wondered how human beings can be so evil to one another? This story kept me up at night and filled my dreams with nightmares. I couldn't help but imagine Esther and her friends as they realized that no one was coming for them - they had to fend for themselves. My heart broke into a million pieces reading her story.
However, Thirty Girls is not just about Esther. This book tells the tale of a woman named Jane. An American dispatched to Africa on a writing assignment - she is to meet with some of the thirty girls who have escaped the LRA's clutches and share their story with the world. Middle-aged, widowed, and searching for her self through this trip, Jane is a woman who borders on the mundane. Her story is cliched and rather annoying. She meets a much younger man and winds up dating him. She hangs around with a crowd of rich expats who seem to view Africa as their playground. People fall into parties, houses, trips, and each others' beds with ease and regret. Jane, however, is obsessed with her new toyboy. She is constantly worried about their pseudo-relationship and whether or not its going anywhere. Jane is more focused on a man she hardly knows, than anything else. She comes across as naive and rather pathetic at times. Quite frankly, I didn't think she could handle meeting up with Esther or any of the other girls who had been kidnapped.
Reading this book was quite an experience. I would dip in and out of it, pondering the lives of these amazing women. Esther's story is one that I will never forget - she made quite an impression on me. She is the epitome of brave (on so many levels). As for Jane, she may have seemed inconsequential whilst I was reading this novel, but she still lingers in my mind. Her level of pain and suffering was nowhere near Esther's, but wasn't that the point - to show us the varying degrees of violence and loss. Through these two characters we are privy to the various depths of despair and brutality that exist within the world and that is what makes this book such an excellent read. Thirty Girls is an important read - one that I urge you to pick up.