Merrimon Book Reviews

Young prostitutes wait for customers in Mumbai's red light district
Photo credit: Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch (1843 – 1910) :German physician for isolating Bacillus anthracis (1877), the Tuberculosis bacillus

From Merrimon Book Reviews
The Blue Notebook
The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine
by James A. Levine

Disturbing and beautiful
Sold into a life of prostitution at age six by her father, Batuk tells her story through a blue notebook and sheets of loose paper, pen and pencils she can scrounge.  Batuk remembers her past and chronicles her current life at age fifteen and that of her friend, another boy prostitute Puneet.  In THE BLUE NOTEBOOK, James A. Levine tells through fiction the story of the exploitation of children and the darker side of Indian sexual slavery, indeed of a global crisis.  From the possible poverty of rural India that might motivate a family to sell their children to the substructures of society and class that use and promote the trade in children, THE BLUE NOTEBOOK speaks from within the culture through the voice of the young girl herself rather than a distant, detached voice.  Her voice is both innocent, seeing the word through a child's eye, and simultaneously mature and wise in ways that haunt an adult reader living outside of her world.  Caught inside the world and yet transcending it in friendship and the trace of writing she leaves behind, Batuk draws the reader into the story.  The sexual details of her life as a prostitute, often cloaked in euphemisms, are not as prominent in the narrative as one might expect, but be warned, the author does not shy away from describing the horrors and brutality suffered by Batuk despite the beauty of other parts of the narrative.  Although the novel is not realistic as whole in its style, even the mythical language and beautiful prose does not hide the darker side of the world described.  Even the change in the narrative at the ending reinforces the stark, cold reality of her life in a way that haunts the reader long after the last page.

While the brutality of the story's events shocks the reader, the prose itself haunts with its beauty. 
James A. Levine layers the narration of the events in Batuk's life with an enchanting fairy tale story interpretation of those events.  THE BLUE NOTEBOOK is deeply troubling on multiple levels.  Quite simply the novel is both disturbing and beautiful at the same time.  A statement tells the reader that the author will donate proceeds of the book to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.  Other than this statement, the book does not have the feel of a preachy, shaming the reader for inaction cause.  Instead, the author makes the reader feel the plight of his subject through the beauty of fiction, engaging the reader's imagination through the beauty of his ability to tell a rich story that reaches more than just the intellect or the social conscience.  The author's background in science and medicine seems to add to the telling of Batuk's story.  The most chilling and realistic scenes center around the medical events in her life.  Here, he writes with an ease that cuts through the beauty of the prose with a simplicity, Here he, crystallizes the experiences and the broader ramifications of the global crisis with just a few words and references.  Through and through, this is an exceptional novel.  The haunting vision achieved through the contrast between the poetic narrative and the subject matter THE BLUE NOTEBOOK encourages the reader to ask questions and explore the book with other readers.  Although the nature of the subject matter may not be designed for every group, THE BLUE NOTEBOOK would make a great book club selection.

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (July 7, 2009)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Review Courtesy of Amazon Vine
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