Commentary on Thirty Girls by Susan Minot
The recent kidnappings of young women in Nigeria validates the significance of Susan Minot’s latest novel, Thirty Girls. It features similar atrocities that occurred in Uganda in the mid-1990’s. Between 1986 and 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony was responsible for the abduction of thousands of young girls and boys, mostly to be used as sex slaves and soldiers for the proliferation of Kony’s deranged vision. Pseudo-religious credo compelled him to marry as many young women as he could then prolifically procreate so that his so-called family (read cult) could pervade and spread his deluded mission throughout the land, maximizing his purview.
Thirty Girls follows two story lines which will at length converge. The first features Esther: a Ugandan teen, one of the thirty of the title who are abducted from a convent by members of the LRA; profoundly traumatized; struggling to heal. The second studies Jane: an American journalist, just arrived in Africa to write the story of the kidnappings and of their nefarious mastermind; emotionally vulnerable after a string of toxic relationships. Can the two help each other?
(American, born Malden, Massachusetts, 1936)
Medium: Silkscreen, edition 25/75
Accession Number: 1999.45j
To all the writers out there, would-be or published:
While listening to an NPR books podcast in which Arun Rath interviews Douglas Coupland about his latest book, Worst Person Ever, I was struck once again by an author asserting how a fictional character can write itself.
The thing about characters — and this is weird, I mean, I’ve been doing this for 14 books now — is you start writing a book, and then about a quarter of the way in, usually the characters basically write the book itself and you’re just sitting there channeling it.
I have experienced this phenomenon personally. It tends to happen not only through a very strongly defined character, as above, but also while commandeering a cogent plot. Although technically one has control over what one writes, in these situations one cannot create without consultation. If you don’t really know how your tale will end (or even if you do; if you’ve planned it out carefully using outlines and story boards) your characters will chime in, they’ll insist.
Use the force, listen to these voices, agree with them; they spout the truth. Usually, if you try to shove in any other direction the story will ring as discordant as a tone-deaf chorister. And speaking of sound, it’s an important mode of recognizing a false tone. Read your work out loud, if it sounds spurious, it is. If you write whatever, novels, stories, blogs, and this hasn’t happened to you, don’t fear, it will; and when it does you’ll agree that the phenomenon is otherworldly, spiritual, the shit, however you call it, just remember to open up your mind and listen to your characters. Before you know it, you’re a channeler.
(French, Chanteloup-en-Brie 1908–2004 Montjustin)
Date: 1938, printed 1946
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Accession Number: 1987.1100.173