In recent months, I’ve been reading about the 100 Nigerian girls that were captured by Boko Haram. They receded from the news for a while, and then later, a new announcement was that most of the girls were now pregnant. In April of 2015, the Nigerian army announced that they had rescued some 300 girls from Boko Haram. While that sounded like success, Amnesty International reported that 2,000 women have been abducted by Boko Haram in the last year. The women were raped and sometimes forced to be suicide bombers. It’s devastating to me to hear about obvious instances where women aren’t seen as human beings, but conduits for violence whether forced on them or to take out others.
Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls is a novel, but one that’s worthy of being read to give us as readers insight into stories that are real. The novel moves through two main characters. The first is Jane, an American woman, divorced, and looking to find rescued girls from Kony’s army for an article. The second is Esther, a young Ugandan girl who was abducted and kept in Kony’s army until she escaped. The narrative switches between these two characters, detailing their backgrounds and how they come to meet near the end of the novel, one to share her story, the other to receive it.
As a novel, I was disappointed at first that we got so much story from Jane. I really wanted to hear more about Esther. But I realized that this choice of approach was important, since it was a way to bring Westerners into the novel, relating to Jane, a woman wanting adventure and finding some romance with a local young man named Harry. The incorporation of Jane’s journey also helped to give the reader a moment to breathe after Esther’s chapter, where the prose seems simple, but the events carry so much weight.
While this is a novel, there is a lot of reality to Esther’s traumatic life as a captive with other girls, made to be the wife of one of the men, watching other girls she had attended school with run away or die. When we read about Boko Haram in the news, we feel pity for the poor girls, and we usually move onto the next article that catches our eye, hoping that we can put it to the back of our mind. But we need to experience it and really understand that the atrocities against women are still happening all around the world.