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Jul 27, 2009

Book Review: "The Blue Notebook" by James Levine

Published by Spiegel & Grau. July 7, 2009.
Hardcover, 224 pages. ISBN: 038552871X

The Burton Review Rating: 3 stars.. I can't say I ENJOYED it, but the story was compelling.

"An unforgettable, deeply affecting tribute to the powers of imagination and the resilience of childhood, The Blue Notebook tells the story of Batuk, a precocious 15-year-old girl from rural India who was sold into sexual slavery by her father when she was nine. As she navigates the grim realities of the Common Street—a street of prostitution in Mumbai where children are kept in cages as they wait for customers to pay for sex—Batuk manages to put pen to paper, recording her private thoughts and stories in a diary. The novel is powerfully told in Batuk’s voice, through the words she writes in her journal, where she finds hope and beauty in the bleakest circumstances."

Batuk writes in a blue notebook of her sexual encounters as she is sold into a type of orphanage that exists solely to profit from the sadistic torture of children. The words she writes are haunting and yet Batuk still writes with a teenager-inspired attitude. Disturbing and dirty are the perfect adjectives for this read. Although the storyline is on the outrageous and shocking side, the actual writing was fluid and pleasant, for quite an unpleasant topic. There were synonyms used for certain things that made the book a bit unique, such as nests as opposed to cells that the children were housed in; perhaps the use of these 'cleaner' words made the book more readable for me. Body parts were also substituted with 'cleaner' words, and yet still disturbing as it came from out of the mouth of the child. Without these synonyms, the language that the writer would have had to use throughout the book would have very much jaded my views even more, as there are multiple instances of child rape and sadistic torture. The synopsis states hope and beauty are within Batuk's words, and I did not see hope or beauty at all. There is not a shadow of beauty within this heartbreaking tale of children who live and die within brothels at the whim of sexual needs of others.

The Blue Notebook is a horrifying tale of sexual abuse and prostitution in Mumbai, India. Since the book reads easily as you are trapped within the bowels of low-lifes and sadists, it was a fast read in few sittings, thankfully. If it wasn't any faster I would have put it down because it was a crudely disgusting story of how one teenage girl attempts to survive the degrading culture that she was born into. For some reason I was compelled to read it, as I hoped that there would be a happy ending, or a reason for the writing.. a light at the end of the tunnel.. something positive as a message in the wake of such human depravity. I did not find that here. If there was something a bit more hopeful and if there were more heartening characters instead of almost everyone (everyone except those who worked in a hospital) being a child abuser, perhaps I would have felt the story was more worthwhile to me. I was saddened by all the corruption that fed on the children of India, and wonder if any of this is true. If it is remotely true, which I gather the prostitution and slavery is indeed a reality, I wonder why after all these years it still goes on. Selling children into sexual slavery! As an American with basic rights and morals it is just pure disgust that I feel for the people who allow this to continue. And perhaps that is the message, that these children have no voice, have no choices and have no life beyond utter misery.

The interesting thing about this whole topic is I wonder how the author, James Levine, came up with this idea, to write a story of an exploited young prostitute. This debut novel shows promise of a literary future, I just hope his next venture is not something that makes my stomach churn again. I read that he has loosely based this novel on a girl he had interviewed regarding this topic. The author James Levine M.D. is a professor and a researcher in the USA, and is not an author by trade. He somehow felt compelled to write this story and he is probably a bit amazed at how much attention he is getting. I read a blog post by Lezlie at Book n' Border Collies (she is hosting a book giveaway until 7/31) when she had the opportunity to hear him speak and he said that the USA has more child prostitutes than India or Thailand. That shocks me! He is donating all U.S. proceeds from this book to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children (

I realize that a disturbing, disgusting and horrific read is probably not up your ally, so if you are deeply touched by the plights of children, and are able to help in any way, how about donating directly to them? Just a thought. Or if you are inclined to purchase this book, (I would definitely keep this book out of reach from your children) Amazon has it currently for $16.56, eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping. You may also want to try Royal Oak Book Shop, with the lowest price online of $11.00 and $3.90 normal shipping.