Thirty Girls by Susan Minot, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2014
This is kind of an odd book. It is a fictional treatment of the true story of the abduction and abuse of thirty girls from St. Mary’s school in northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army. That part of the book is vivid and compelling in describing what happened to the girls; how they were beaten, raped and forced to comply with the weird practices of Joseph Kony’s cult. Through reminisces of girls who escaped, the book also provides insight into how they handled the trauma psychologically. Some cooped, others did not. Similarly with their families, some viewed the girls as irreparably damaged. Others welcomed them home. But life could never be the same.
The other part of the book tracks the vague quest of a thirty something American journalist Jane who pitches up in East Africa with the hazy idea of writing about the girls. She falls in with a company of Kenya cowboys and world vagabonds and their sybarite lifestyle. Jane hasn’t much of a back-story, but she lives for the moment even as she wonders about her place in life. Later she is struck by the realization of the unpredictability of violence.
The plot of the story unfolds as the jaundiced westerners travel to Uganda to detail the girls’ stories. So finally the two parts of the book begin to jive. Author Minot throws an unexpected twist into the plot at the last minute, but one which serves to underscore the theme of random violence.
Readers cannot help but feel sympathy for the abducted girls and the horrors they endured. At the same time the western sybarites garner only disgust. Yet folks on both sides reveal universal truths - relationships matter and you have to deal with what confronts you.
For readers interested in Uganda and the impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army on the Acholi people, this is a useful book.