Knopf Doubleday: 2/11/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages
My Thoughts:Esther is a Ugandan teenager abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities, who is struggling to survive, to escape, and to find a way to live with what she has seen and done. Jane is an American journalist who has traveled to Africa, hoping to give a voice to children like Esther and to find her center after a series of failed relationships. In unflinching prose, Minot interweaves their stories, giving us razor-sharp portraits of two extraordinary young women confronting displacement, heartbreak, and the struggle to wrest meaning from events that test them both in unimaginable ways.
With mesmerizing emotional intensity and stunning evocations of Africa's beauty and its horror, Minot gives us her most brilliant and ambitious novel yet.
Thirty Girls by Susan Minot is recommended.
By alternating between the narrative voice of Jane Wood and Esther Akello, Susan Minot creates a sharp juxtaposition of emotions in Thirty Girls, a fictionalized real life tragedy. Jane is an American journalist who has traveled to Nairobi and is planning to travel to Uganda in order to interview the girls who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA ) led by the infamous Joseph Kony. Esther was one of the 30 Ugandan girls kept by the LRA from their convent school in 1996. This was after 100 girls were released to a nun from the school. While Esther is simply trying to recover from her years of rape and abuse, Jane hangs out with a privileged group of cohorts who decide to accompany her to Uganda.
Minot uses great discernment in capturing the subtle nuances of Esther's psychological as well as physical recovery. Esther's story is difficult to read, heart breaking. She is struggling to simply survive day by day, hoping to recover some normalcy but plagued by memories and thoughts of her detestable captivity. Her story is the heart and soul of the book - and it is tragic.
My problem with Thirty Girls is Jane. For me she detracts from the real story. The horrific experiences Esther endured make Jane look shallow, narcissistic, and rather aimless. While Jane is in Africa to interview the recovering abducted girls, she seems less interested in Esther's story than in her own silly love affair with a younger man. Jane is just annoying as heck.
Thirty Girls is a beautifully written novel, and Esther's story will touch your life, but I wish Jane had not been inserted into her story. It lessened the impact of the narrative for me.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via Edelweiss for review purposes.