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Thirty Girls Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 11, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266385
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Rebels in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda burst into a convent dormitory, seize 139 schoolgirls, and march them off into the night. Sister Giulia follows and bravely argues for their release. She returns with 109. The outlaws keep 30, including smart, courageous Esther. Jane, an American writer and youngish widow, visits a friend in Kenya, sexy, generous Lana, and takes up with Harry, who is passionate about paragliding—a poetic and apt embodiment of the illusion of freedom: though you feel exhilarated in flight, you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Jane is on her way to Uganda to speak with young women at a camp for traumatized children who escaped their enslavement to the psychotic rebels. Lana, Harry, a wealthy American businessman, and a French documentarian decide, cavalierly, to accompany her. In her first novel in more than a decade, spellbinding Minot (Rapture, 2002; Evening, 1998), a writer of exquisite perception and nuance, contrasts Esther’s and Jane’s radically different, yet profoundly transforming journeys in a perfectly choreographed, slow-motion, devastatingly revealing collision of realities. So sure yet light is Minot’s touch in this master work, so piercing yet respectful her insights into suffering and strength, that she dramatizes horrific truths, obdurate mysteries, and painful recognition with both bone-deep understanding and breathtaking beauty. --Donna Seaman

Review

"Wrenching . . . Suspenseful . . . By far her best."
            —The New York Times

“A novel of quiet humanity and probing intelligence . . . Minot is particularly good on the topology of desire . . . But it’s the story of what happened to those 30 abducted girls that shows Minot’s gifts as a writer . . . Minot takes huge questions and examines them with both a delicate touch and a cleareyed, unyielding scrutiny.”
            —The New York Times Book Review
 
“Clear and searing . . . Pulls you in from the first page . . . The details are rendered with empathy, and both main characters occupied honorably in their struggles. It forces the reader to consider how much luck fashions the basic architecture of our lives. And how, despite all the vast differences in that architecture, what we strive for is remarkably the same . . . A book that looks hard at trauma, love, and humanity, that contemplates the wide potential spectrum of life, concluding perhaps that life is not competition between us, but instead a struggle within each of us for whatever ‘twigs’ of love and happiness we can manage, no matter what the context.”
            —The Boston Globe

“Extraordinary . . . Panoramic . . . Poetic . . . Minot shows her readers that war zones cannot be contained within one country, or one region. When cruelty and violence reign, we are all at risk.”
            —NPR
 
 “Daring . . . Minot’s cleanly sculpted prose and capacity to penetrate and open the mind and heart challenge us to step outside our comfort zone. Finally, there comes this realization: Esther and Jane aren’t so different at all. We recognize their stories as ours . . . Minot succeeds, through her fictionalized version, in making us care as much as she does.”
            —O Magazine

“Africa—described in Minot’s muscular, evocative, and unflinching prose—offers itself up to Jane in all its beguiling beauty, its unremitting violence, and breaks her open like an egg. When she meets Esther Akello, whose time in captivity has left her silent and self-hating, the two recognize in each other something that needs healing, and together they create a transcendent moment (for the reader as well) in a ‘cracked and sad’ world where ‘everything was lit and love happened.’”
            —MORE Magazine
 
“Using candid, staccato sentences that ricochet off the page like bullets on metal, the full array of Esther’s emotions about what happened to her—anger, self-loathing, fear, remorse—is respectfully portrayed and duly felt . . . Too, Minot jabs at the heart of what it means to be white and privileged in a world riddled with racial prejudice and class inequality . . . Minot can be applauded.”
            —San Francisco Chronicle  

“Transfixing . . . Esther, taken from harsh reality, is an extraordinary character . . . If you keep patient, all [the novel’s] scattered, neurotic strands will wind into a tight cord, and, in the end, you may calm down, stay in this writer’s hands and make sense of the exhilaration and horror.”
            —Washington Post
   
“Taut, harrowing . . . By the time Esther and Jane meet, each has come through tragedy to a kind of peace. But quiet, stoic Esther is the one you’ll be rooting for.”
            —People
 
“This is Minot unlike we have ever read her . . . Thirty Girls, a book that deserves to win a wide international readership, stands as her most powerful novel yet . . . A forceful address to readers too familiar with the inertia that buffers us from distant lands and their unknown terrors.”
            —Sydney Morning Herald

“When there is a story the world needs to know, does it matter who tells it, or just that it gets told? . . . The nexus of white guilt and privilege is raised in Thirty Girls again and again . . . Minot tells both stories with such harsh, lyrical beauty that neither is easy to forget. Grade: A-.”
            —Entertainment Weekly
 
“A novel as raw, beautiful, and seemingly serendipitous as the politics, landscape, and culture of the sub-Saharan Africa it describes . . . Minot has an uncanny feel for the emotional hit-or-miss connections between people.”
            —Shelf Awareness
 
“Gripping . . . Sensual . . . Immediate . . . Minot wants to do more than sound a drumbeat of atrocities . . . She wants to use literature to transmute a human horror into something that can be understood and in time healed.”
            —Miami Herald
 
“Exceptional . . . Represents a broadening vision for Minot . . . She has earned a trademark on the subject of desire.”
            —Elle 

“Poignant . . . The true heart of this novel comes from Esther and the children of the LRA. Minot captures their characters so effectively that, throughout the many scenes, one almost forgets that these specific stories and children are fiction. Esther is a stunning character whose strength and bravery is an inspiration to readers . . . Thirty Girls conveys an important story that people need to hear.”
            —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Skillful and moving . . . Esther’s story gives Thirty Girls moral weight, like that offered in Graham Greene’s best novels . . . We’re all suffering humans, but our capacity for empathy offers a chance of reducing that suffering. Thirty Girls brings faraway calamity home in the form of Esther, a character so endearing that shutting out her story is not an option.”
            —Dallas Morning News 

“Visually intense . . . Minot’s writing is so potent and the story told so tragic, the novel sears the mind.”
            —New York Daily News
 
“Exquisitely written . . . Harrowing.”
            —Time Out New York

“Truthful . . . Minot’s careful observations of emotion are as precise and honest as they were in [Evening] . . . Minot does her utmost to imagine the unimaginable.”
            —PopMatters 

“Esther’s struggles are universally compelling—heartbreaking, stomach-churning . . . Factual undergirding lends a lightning crackle to her troubled sentiments . . . But by narrative’s end, it is Jane who will be tested to see if she is ready to meet life’s terrible challenges with transformative grace.”
            —Kirkus
 
“A book about the relativity of pain; the grace of forgiveness; and the essential unknowability of a lover.”
            —Daily Beast
 
“Spellbinding Minot, a writer of exquisite perception and nuance, contrasts Esther’s and Jane’s radically different, yet profoundly transforming journeys in a perfectly choreographed, slow-motion, devastatingly revealing collision of realities. So sure yet light is Minot’s touch in this master work, so piercing yet respectful her insights into suffering and strength, that she dramatizes horrific truths, obdurate mysteries, and painful recognition with both bone-deep understanding and breathtaking beauty.”
            —Booklist (starred review)
 
“Dreamlike . . . Though the shifting narratives start out highlighting the stark contrasts between the two worlds, they eventually collide as violence enters the privileged white enclave . . . A deeply affecting title that manages to express weighty sentiments and horrific events with subtlety and poetry.”
            —Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Hotly anticipated . . . Wins the reader’s heart.”
            —Vogue
 
 “Haunting . . . With brilliantly effective understatement, the novel conveys Esther’s complex psychological evolution . . . Minot’s risky narrative ploy . . . pays off at the end, when senseless tragedy shows Jane how quickly lives can be changed and invests her with a higher sense of purpose.”
            —Publishers Weekly
 
“Riveting . . . Heartbreaking . . . Hauntingly beautiful prose.”
    &#...

More About the Author

Susan Minot is an award-winning novelist and short story writer whose books include Monkeys, Folly, Lust & Other Stories, and Evening, which was adapted into the feature film of the same name starring Meryl Streep. Minot was born in Boston and raised in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, attended Brown University, and received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She currently lives with her daughter in both New York City and an island off the coast of Maine.

Customer Reviews

The concurrent plot was interesting but I did not feel particularly invested in the characters.
Lisbeth
There's no wry, sarcastic tone to Minot's glimpse at Jane and her colleagues; there's no self-awareness on the part of many of these individuals.
S. McGee
Perhaps Minot meant for her to be annoying, and to have written her as changing too dramatically near the end might have felt inauthentic.
Meg Cox

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By E. Smiley on February 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of those books that's sold as a story of atrocities in a little-known country, but that actually focuses on the mundane angst of a visiting American.

Jane is a 38-year-old writer from New York, who travels to Uganda to recover from a failed marriage. She soon meets the much younger Harry, to whom she attaches herself like a barnacle, obsessing about the relationship while setting out with a group of aimless expats on a road trip to interview children kidnapped by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. The children include Esther, a teenage girl taken hostage along with most of her Catholic school classmates.

Unfortunately, the book skims over the true drama of Esther's and the other girls' stories, in favor of the mundane details of Jane's trip and her affair; indeed, Esther narrates only a third of the book, for all that it's supposedly about the thirty girls. I suspect Jane's chapters are based on personal experience, because they have the ring of travel stories ("The roads were terrible, and when we finally arrived, what we thought was a hotel turned out to be a brothel! And THEN, we asked someone where to find a hotel, and he offered to let us stay at his house!"). Like many travel anecdotes, they are less interesting than the teller imagines, and the road trip drags on interminably. Even when the group finally arrives in what we're told is a war zone, all that seems to be at stake for them is who's sleeping with whom.

I don't blame Jane for continuing to inhabit her own life, despite being horrified by the plight of the LRA's victims; it's an honest portrayal of the way most people respond to the suffering of strangers.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By a reader on March 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Minot took the story of the Thirty Girls and used it to write a book. Those girls had a horrific experience.

I heard Ms. Minot on NPR. She was asked if she'd be using any of the profits of her book to help these girls. She replied that she had to pay off debts, and that she had a daughter to support. After that, she said, she'd "look into" giving some help to the Ugandan girls.

She says she wanted to raise awareness about this story. But during the NPR interview, she did not mention the very comprehensive book about this kidnapping written 5 years ago. It is called Stolen Angels. It is nonfiction (not fictionalized like Thirty Girls) and tells all about this terrible incident. And that author donates profits from her book to help the girls she writes about.

I was pretty surprised that Ms. Minot went back to Uganda to interview the girls and actually tried to get them to talk about their rapes. They didn't want to share much with her, she says. No surprise there, Ms. Minot! What an insensitive (and potentially harmful) thing to do to traumatized young women. Make them talk about their rapes so you can write a book about it.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By she treads softly on February 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
By alternating between the narrative voice of Jane Wood and Esther Akello, Susan Minot creates a sharp juxtaposition of emotions in Thirty Girls, a fictionalized real life tragedy. Jane is an American journalist who has traveled to Nairobi and is planning to travel to Uganda in order to interview the girls who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA ) led by the infamous Joseph Kony. Esther was one of the 30 Ugandan girls kept by the LRA from their convent school in 1996. This was after 100 girls were released to a nun from the school. While Esther is simply trying to recover from her years of rape and abuse, Jane hangs out with a privileged group of cohorts who decide to accompany her to Uganda.

Minot uses great discernment in capturing the subtle nuances of Esther's psychological as well as physical recovery. Esther's story is difficult to read, heart breaking. She is struggling to simply survive day by day, hoping to recover some normalcy but plagued by memories and thoughts of her detestable captivity. Her story is the heart and soul of the book - and it is tragic.

My problem with Thirty Girls is Jane. For me she detracts from the real story. The horrific experiences Esther endured make Jane look shallow, narcissistic, and rather aimless. While Jane is in Africa to interview the recovering abducted girls, she seems less interested in Esther's story than in her own silly love affair with a younger man. Jane is just annoying as heck.

Thirty Girls is a beautifully written novel, and Esther's story will touch your life, but I wish Jane had not been inserted into her story. It lessened the impact of the narrative for me.

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot is recommended.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via Edelweiss for review purposes.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen J. Pippen on February 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Who cares about all the teenage angst professed by a middle aged women? The story is the girls and the plight of children. The author uses the true story as a come on to attract readers to a story about a decidedly uninteresting main character. The thirty girls are a subplot. Such a shame. They deserved better.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"In unflinching prose, Minot interweaves their stories, giving us razor-sharp portraits of two extraordinary young women confronting displacement, heartbreak, and the struggle to wrest meaning from events that test them both in unimaginable ways." So says the publisher's letter. Would it only were true! There are two principal women, certainly. One is Esther, a teenage survivor of abduction, rape, and brutalization by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda in the late 1990s. The other is Jane Wood, an American journalist fleeing a divorce; at 38, she is hardly young, and it is difficult to see anything extraordinary about her at all.

Unfortunately, Minot chooses to start with Jane, arriving in Nairobi and staying in the house of a casual friend. The atmosphere is like a floating house-party with a constant stream of Europeans and Americans dropping in and out, eating, drinking, swimming, or going on impromptu excursions. And making love. Jane hooks up with a man fifteen years her junior, and clearly has more need of him than he of her. But then Jane seems defined more by her needs than anything positive she can contribute in her own right. Indeed, the whole crew seemed little more than hangers-on, observers of the life of a continent not their own but in no way a part of it.

It was fairly obvious where Minot might be going. She would take her two contrasted women, one a drone and the other a victim, bring them together, and see what changes they might effect in each other's lives.* Fair enough, except that she takes so long about it. Jane does not even reach Uganda until page 140, and will not meet Esther for some time after that.
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