When there is a story the world needs to know, does it matter who tells it, or just that it gets told? How much should we judge the messenger?
Thirty Girls takes a real-life atrocity — the 1996 abduction of a group of Ugandan schoolgirls by the Lord’s Resistance Army — and novelizes it through the eyes of two starkly different narrators: 15-year-old Esther Akello, one of the ”stolen ones,” and thirtysomething New York writer Jane Wood, who comes to Africa to escape her existential malaise as much as to document what has happened there. To Jane, the continent is intoxicating, ”a place where everyone seemed matter-of-factly to lead a life of extremity and daring,” and where she quickly falls into an intense affair with a much younger man. To Esther, of course, it’s just her home, until she is taken with her classmates in the middle of the night by LRA rebels and deposited into a world of physical and psychological violence so constant that death is often welcomed.
Like Jane, Minot went to Uganda to cover the kidnappings without any previous experience in war journalism, and the nexus of white guilt and privilege is raised in Girls again and again. Floating down the Nile with her lover, Jane thinks how ”at that moment, three hundred miles north of this peaceful gliding river, children were being yanked out of their homes, held captive, raped, infected with deadly disease, and made to kill. The sun shone down as the river carried them along.” Some readers may not be able to like Jane, or even tolerate her. But Minot tells both stories with such harsh, lyrical beauty that neither is easy to forget. A-