cover image Thirty Girls

Thirty Girls

Susan Minot. Knopf, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-26638-5

In 1996, 30 adolescent girls were taken from their school in Uganda and kept captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a ragtag rebel movement led by the notorious warlord Joseph Kony. Minot (Evening) has taken this real-life event as the inspiration for her haunting new novel. In the voice of one of the survivors, fictionalized as Esther Akello, she relates the many horrors the girls endure, which include bearing their captors’ children. With brilliantly effective understatement, the novel conveys Esther’s complex psychological evolution—the emotional blankness that allows her to survive horrendous experiences, as well as the feelings of shame and guilt that threaten to overwhelm her at times. “We girls are like stone trees,” Esther thinks. Chapters alternate between the perspectives of Esther and Jane Wood, a self-absorbed, 40-ish American journalist who travels to Africa to interview the abductees, but is also fleeing failed love affairs and a general sense of purposelessness in her life. This is a risky narrative ploy, as Jane’s concerns seem trivial compared to those of the heroically resilient teenagers. It pays off at the end, though, when senseless tragedy shows Jane how quickly lives can be changed and invests her with a higher sense of purpose. 50,000-copy first printing announced. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Literary Agency. (Feb.)