Title: The Blue Notebook Author: James A. Levine Published: July 7, 2009 Page Count: 224 Genre: Fiction My Rating: 4 out of 5
Every now and then, we come across a novel that moves us like no other, that seems like a miracle of the imagination, and that haunts us long after the book is closed. James Levine’s The Blue Notebook is that kind of book. It is the story of Batuk, an Indian girl who is taken to Mumbai from the countryside and sold into prostitution by her father; the blue notebook is her diary, in which she recalls her early childhood, records her life on the Common Street, and makes up beautiful and fantastic tales about a silver-eyed leopard and a poor boy who fells a giant with a single gold coin.
How did Levine, a British-born doctor at the Mayo Clinic, manage to conjure the voice of a fifteen-year-old female Indian prostitute? It all began, he told me, when, as part of his medical research, he was interviewing homeless children on a street in Mumbai known as the Street of Cages, where child prostitutes work. A young woman writing in a notebook outside her cage caught Levine’s attention. The powerful image of a young prostitute engaged in the act of writing haunted him, and he himself began to write.
The Blue Notebook brings us into the life of a young woman for whom stories are not just entertainment but a means of survival. Even as the novel humanizes and addresses the devastating global issue of child prostitution, it also delivers an inspiring message about the uplifting power of words and reading–a message that is so important to hold on to, especially in difficult times. Dr. Levine is donating all his U.S. proceeds from this book to help exploited children. Batuk’s story can make a difference.
The Blue Notebook is unlike any other book I’ve read recently. It tells what feels like a true story of a child/teenage prostitute in India, in first person, from the perspective of Batuk (the prostitute), as she writes about her life in her little blue notebook. However, the book itself is a work of fiction, although it is apparently based on real people Levine met and interviewed in Mumbai. This novel is raw, sad, and unbelievably heartbreaking.
It amazes me how well Levine was able to write Batuk’s voice and keep it so authentic-sounding. There is just no way he can possibly imagine or understand what a child prostitute’s life is really like, what those young girls think and feel on a day to day basis, yet somehow he was able to convey exactly that. Batuk felt so real to me, the book could just have easily been a memoir as a novel, that I was just left feeling totally enraptured in her world and caring deeply about what would happen to her. Of course, when I thought about it I remembered that she isn’t actually real – but then again, there are millions of young girls and boys who live her life who ARE real. And that fact is very scary and sobering.
The Blue Notebook was not an easy read, but it’s a book that I think needs to be read, because it’s very important to raise our own consciousness and awareness of these types of atrocities going on in our world. Children are sold by their parents into prostitution, are being raped by up to twenty men a day, every day, in our world. And we need to be aware of that, and if possible, work to fix it. Books like this help us to do that.
As for the story itself, I thought it was an incredibly good one. I was totally immersed in Batuk’s world from the first page and couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. I do have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending – it was really just too depressing for my tastes. I wanted some kind of resolution, some kind of hopeful ending, yet all I got was ambiguity and nothing concrete. Then again, such is the life of a girl like Batuk, so I guess it’s a pretty realistic way to end what was a sadly realistic book. I would have liked more, but I understand the effect Levine was going for and I definitely feel that he accomplished it.
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