I recently got the time to start the books I’ve wanted to read in my reading list — aka it’s summertime! (Aside from summer classes and research of course.) So one of the books that was available and I really wanted to read was Thirty Girls, a novel by Susan Minot. It follows 2 women, Esther who was one of the students kidnapped by Kony’s forces from an all-girls boarding school in Uganda, and Jane, an American writer who needed time away from her life in America and decided to go to Africa and learn more about the thirty missing girls.
As nearly 300 brave girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, nearly a month ago, I decided that now was an apt time to start reading this book.
There will be a few spoilers of sorts, but I won’t mention anything major to the plot.
To be quite honest, I enjoyed reading Esther’s chapters much, much more than Jane’s chapters. Esther was a much more complex a character than Jane, and that made reading what had happened to her much more intriguing. Jane, on the other hand, is extremely idealistic and is fresh from a divorce and seems very lost, emotionally and mentally. Granted, that does not make her less of a complex character; it just makes her less appealing of a character for me to read about. (I’m a very picky reader when it comes to characters and characterization.)
Esther’s chapters start as if she’s telling the story of her kidnapping, and the events that followed. When the chapters deal with the present, which is when Esther is in a rehab center to recover from trauma caused by the kidnapping, she’s so forlorn and emotionally chaotic. The words seem to just come alive and it’s not hard to feel Esther’s emotions as if they were your own. Minot does a wonderful job dealing with PTSD, depression, anger, and helplessness to the point where the readers just want to reach into the book and give Esther a giant hug. In the chapters where Esther recounts everything that happened from when Kony’s forces come barging into the dorms at the boarding school, it’s almost emotionless. As if Esther does not want to remember the pain, the agony that those memories hold. This only furthers the readers’ wish to comfort Esther, followed by a gut feeling that the comfort may not be wanted or appropriate. Minot brings out the feeling of helplessness and empathy from the readers so beautifully that I had to stop and put the book down so I could ground myself again.
It’s harder to read when there are 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria, who are probably now sex slaves to the members of the cowardly Boko Haram. That’s 300 that we now know of, but how many girls are kidnapped all over the globe, by radical groups, to prevent them from receiving a decent education and bring them and their families out of poverty? That realization is what I felt as though was the purpose of Esther’s chapters.
Jane’s chapters are extremely idealistic, to the point where I started wondering if that was Jane’s coping mechanism for her divorce. She does become sexually invovled with one of the guides she meets along the way — who’s much younger than her, oh ho — but it almost feels as though he’s also part of her coping mechanism. And these doubts continually run through her mind as she journeys from her starting point to the rehab center where Esther is currently staying. Minot does do a great job of portraying Jane as an idealistic and sensual woman, but I personally don’t fancy idealistic characters, which is why I found Jane’s chapters to be rather boring. But you do get the sense that Jane has all the time in the world to continue exploring the people, culture, and the terrain of Africa, as plans are constantly being pushed back by potlucks and chance meetings.
When the visitors meet other girls that had escaped from the rebels, that’s really when things become interesting. Jane and her company were stunned by the stories, the autrocities that poured forth from other fortunate girls’s mouths. While the girls became more relaxed, more hopeful now that the burden no longer rested on their shoulders. Jane & Co. had become much more realistic — especially Jane. The girls had started to emotionally and mentally heal a bit more and a bit faster.
Afterwards, Jane & Co. travels onwards to meet other girls that had been abducted and forced to become part of “Kony’s family”. And slowly but surely, the plot weaves the 2 protagonists together in a way that cannot really be described. It’s just better to read the book at this point because Minot’s words are so beautiful and so powerful that it leaves the readers breathless by the end.
Overall, I really did love this novel. It does a wonderful job of characterization and plot/character development. And the emotions are so raw that you can feel them throughout your body. Minot’s novel is excellent and I would like to reread it again — maybe then, I’ll appreciate Jane’s idealistic character more.