Each book held me captive and then lingered as I pondered the impact. I recommend each of them highly, particularly now as we await news of the schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, and hear more psychotic proclamations from Boko Haram and the pitiful rumblings of Nigeria's clown for a president.
Roxane Gay's first novel "An Untamed State" holds nothing back in describing the horrendous experiences of Haitian American lawyer Mireille Duval Jameson after being kidnapped for ransom outside her parents' enclave in Port-Au-Prince. To survive the brutalities of being a hostage, Mireille clings to memories of a privileged childhood and her solid, passionate marriage. She also develops a fascinating blend of resignation, determination, and emotional disengagement as she suffers the insanities of her violent captors. The prose is gripping, and kept me reading late into the night. An unnecessary twist at the end was distracting, but it's a fabulous, thought-provoking read.
The novel "Thirty Girls" by Susan Minot is based on the mass abduction of more than 100 girls from a Catholic boarding school in 1996 by followers of cult leader Joseph Kony. In the novel and in reality, a nun tracks the abductors down and negotiates for the girls' release. She is successful, except for 30 girls who must remain with the LRA as child fighters and "brides." In the novel, one of them is Esther Akello, and it is her story of capture, enslavement, escape, and rehabilitation that Minot tells most beautifully. In alternating chapters, we also hear the story of American journalist Jane Wood, who travels to Uganda to write about Esther and others who have escaped. She has, of course, taken on this project as an escape from her own trappings. Jane joins a cast of white, bohemian characters (some are African ex-patriot caricatures) who provide her with not only a chance for romance, but adventures that only privileged white folk could possibly enjoy in Uganda. At one point I lost track of who was having sex with whom, but eventually I figured it all out. And so does Jane, who benefits not only from the overwhelming wisdom shared by the traumatized Esther, but from African tragedies of her own. An excellent read.
Jennifer Clement knows today's Mexico very well, and her wonderful "Prayers for the Stolen" is a testament to her deep understanding and her engaging prose. In remote villages of Guerrero state, not far from Acapulco, the drug cartels rule. When baby girls are born, mothers give them a temporary boy's name and dress them as such. If this fails as the girls grow, they make them ugly with haircuts, clothing, and blackened teeth. They create hiding places for girls to rush to whenever the cartels' black SUVs are heard or seen. Abductions are commonplace, and many stolen women are eventually murdered and left to join the growing lists of disappeared daughters. This coming of age story focuses on young Ladydi Garcia Martinez (named for Princess Diana), her struggles to avoid abduction, her archetypal alcoholic mother, and a cast of village families, all of whom share the struggle to survive the cartels. One of Ladydi's cohorts, Paula, is much too beautiful to disguise, and the cartel finds her. Amazingly, she makes her way home a year later, bringing with her the graphic and transformative realities of life with a cartel boss. The novel takes off from there, winding almost every character's fate into Paula's story and the expansive reach of the cartels. This novel is absolutely grounded in the harsh realities of Mexican life, and Clement (a poet) presents a tale as only the best of storytellers can do. It's a haunting, captivating read. I hope you'll agree.