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Thirty Girls (Vintage Contemporaries)
Thirty Girls (Vintage Contemporaries)
Minot, Susan
Vintage, 2015
384 pp., 16.95

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David A. Hoekema

Captives of the Prophet

The 1996 Uganda kidnappings.

In northern Uganda, 18 years before Boko Haram's mass kidnapping from a girls' school in Nigeria, 200 pupils were taken by force from their school dormitory. Their captors too were adherents of an armed rebellion that claimed to be restoring true religion to people who had wandered from the path. The kidnapped girls of St. Mary's School in Aboke, near Lira, were taught to obey the Ten Commandments, do no farming on Friday, and keep house and bear children for rebel commanders to whom God had assigned them. The prophet who received these instructions and relayed them to his soldiers and captives was a shadowy former soldier named Joseph Kony. Like most of his soldiers, and most of the 30,000 boys and girls they kidnapped, Kony identified himself as Christian. But the wisdom he drew from Christian Scripture was filtered through the revelations of 13 different spirits who, he claimed, visited him in visions.

The Aboke kidnapping in 1996 riveted the world's attention for a time. Pursuing the soldiers the morning after the kidnapping, Sister Rachelle Fassera obtained the release of all but 30 of the girls. Most of those 30 remained captive for as long as ten years before they escaped or were finally released; four died in lra hands. The rebellion dragged on, descending into a nightmare of kidnapping, rape, and murder. Kony left Uganda in 2006, releasing most of the abducted, but remains in hiding nearby with a small group of loyalists.

Now, after all these years, the Aboke kidnapping is made real again in a work of fiction. Susan Minot's Thirty Girls tells the truth but tells it slant. Minot conveys the horrors of civil war and delusional religion without sensationalism or sentimentalism. Inventing all of her characters but placing their experiences in the history of the conflict, she has written a remarkable book.

Actually, two remarkable books: there are two intertwined narratives here. One of them is the story of the kidnapped girls, from ...

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