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Thirty Girls, by Susan Minot, Fourth Estate £16.99, 400 pages
A work of fiction built upon factual terrain, Susan Minot’s new novel probes the tragic events that unfolded in Uganda in 1996, when 30 schoolgirls were wrested from their beds by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and forced into slavery. Jane is an imagined American journalist, on the trail of the story through the African scrub.
The story darts between rather breathless accounts of the abduction and the misadventures of the vapid Jane, who bounces all too easily from the grief of the field to the decadence of expat life. In rough but mobile prose, what could have been a fluid cross-cultural study is weighed down by repetitive depictions of the horrors inflicted, which seem more geared to thrill the reader than to further the story. Minot’s attempt to condense the complex struggle of a people, over years of unrest, into this one mindless act of terror is admirable but at times unconvincing.
Thirty Girls is a malignant picture of a country that gnaws away at its own children, and of the impotence of those who watch from the sidelines.