The Blue Notebook
By James A. Levine
Spiegel & Grau, July 2009
“The Blue Notebook is a deeply moving story and a searing reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. It is a tribute to how writing can give meaning and help one transcend even the most harrowing circumstances. The voice of Batuk, the unforgettable child prostitute heroine, will stay with the reader a long, long time.”—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
I have to say, I don’t know how to review this book. I have so many feelings about this book that it is going to be difficult to get them into the right words. First, let me tell you what it’s about.
The Blue Notebook is about an unforgettable character. Batuk is without a doubt one of the most amazing characters I’ve ever met and she’s going to be staying with me for a long time, I’m sure. You see, Batuk is a 15-year-old prostitute from rural India. She was sold into sexual slavery by her own father when she was nine. Her father very clearly adored her, but he did it anyway. The only reason we are given is that “he lost everything.” Batuk is a very precocious little girl. A bout with TB in her youth gave her the opportunity to learn how to read and write. Once she procures a pen and paper on the streets, she begins to write her private thoughts and stories into a diary. This novel is very powerfully told through her voice, through the stories she puts in her blue notebook, where she writes eloquently about the beauty and even the hope she finds in the most hopeless of circumstances.
The most impressive thing I found in this book was Dr. James A. Levine’s writing skill. Dr. James A. Levine, MD, PhD is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and is a world-renowned scientist, doctor, and researcher. And now, we can add accomplished writer to that prestigious mix. For he does an admirable job of writing with the voice of a 15-year-old girl prostitute from India. In the letter that was printed in the front of my copy, the publisher says:
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.
As if that wasn’t moving enough, ALL of the U.S. proceeds from this novel will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.icmec.org).
This is a beautifully crafted novel that explores how people in such extreme, desperate situations can use words, language, the very power of storytelling, to make sense of their world and give added meaning to their lives. It gives a glimpse into a world that you don’t see on the news, read in the news papers, or hear about on the radio. It is a glimpse into a world that needs help. Make no mistake; it is not an easy book to read. There were several sections where I felt like I could not keep going, Batuk’s initiation into prostitution being one of the hardest, but after some comments by others on Twitter, I did. The Blue Notebook is an intense novel that will stay with you long after you turn the final page and Batuk a character you will never forget. She continues to haunt me weeks after I finished this book. I am glad I read it and hope that you will too.
Thank you, Spiegel & Grau Publishers, for the opportunity to read and review powerful and exceptionally moving novel.
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