We all know that 2016 has been one hell of a year, and reading Thirty Girls by Susan Minot will do nothing to make you feel better about it. As the title suggests, Thirty Girls is about a group of girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army from their boarding school in Uganda. Not happy or uplifting stuff.
To lighten the mood a little, Minot flips back and forth between their plight and a group of expats partying and dealing with their own traumas as they travel from Nairobi to Uganda. This has a two-fold effect: I don’t think that emotionally i would have been able to make it through Thirty Girls without the levity provided by these characters, but it also made me feel terrible about the hedonism and self-centredness of white privilege.
So did I like the book? Yes and no. As difficult as it is to read about the situation in Uganda, i do think it is really important that we constantly shine a light on the injustices perpetrated against children and women there and in other places around the world. I feel like I learned something. But even as Minot shows the horrible crimes committed against girls, she also provides us with the weakest of female protagonists – someone who can only find her identity through her relationship to men. For example, “Jane found that sitting between two men … gave her a splendid feeling in both body and soul”. Puke, puke. Come on now.
Who would like this book? Thirty Girls did a great job of painting a picture of what it is like for child soldiers forced into an organization like the Lord’s Resistance Army. On an intellectual level that is the novel’s great strength. On an emotional level, it makes it a very challenging read. Part of the novel takes place in Kenya, where I visited this autumn. So for me, I loved reading about Nairobi, Naivasha and other places I visited or passed through.