Thirty Girls

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Thirty Girls
Evening author Susan Minot's daring new novel, Thirty Girls (Knopf), was inspired by the 1996 abduction of a group of teenagers from their Catholic boarding school in Uganda by the militant Lord's Resistance Army. Minot, who wrote a  nonf iction piece on the incident and was never able to get the story out of her head, succeeds, through her fictionalized version, in making us care as much as she does. The book draws its power from parallel portraits of two female protagonists who, on the face of it, have almost nothing in common: Esther Akello, one of the 30 kidnapped girls who give the book its title, and Jane Wood, an American journalist who has felt adrift since her divorce and now, in mid-life, is in search of a new purpose to anchor her.  

We learn, through Esther's thoughts and observations, the harrowing details of her months with the rebel soldiers and her struggle to recover afterward—how, while in captivity, she was forced to watch as children were groomed to be killers; how she was raped and gave birth to a child of her own; how she survives by deciding "not to remember."  

Meanwhile, Jane has traveled from the United States to East Africa to talk with the abductees and give voice to their stories. Her friends in Nairobi, Kenya, her home base, are a group of glamorous expats who dress for dinner, drink vodka in the bush, and water-ski on Lake Victoria. Being in their company almost causes Jane to lose sight of her goal—especially when that company includes Harry, a younger man who becomes the object of her obsession; their physical attraction consumes and destabilizes her.  

Minot's cleanly sculpted prose and capacity to penetrate and open the mind and heart challenge us to step outside our comfort zone. Finally, there comes this realization: Esther and Jane aren't so different at all. We recognize their stories as ours.

— Francesca Marciano