Book Review: The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

bluenotebookTitle: The Blue Notebook
Author: James A. Levine
Genre: Modern fiction
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First line: I have a break now.

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine is the story of Batuk, a fifteen-year-old prostitute in Mumbai, India. Batuk was sold into sexual slavery by her father when she was nine years old. After her initiation, during which her virginity was sold to the highest bidder among a group of rich men, she is given as a “wife” to a criminal, living in a place called The Orphanage with other “wives.” She then becomes a street prostitute, living in her nest on the street, serving dozens of men a week. The only thing that brings Batuk out of the misery of her condition is her writing. As she writes of her past, her life, and the stories that grow out of her imagination, she manages to keep a tentative hold on the part of her that is still human.

Levine has crafted a heartbreakingly realistic book full of the worst that humanity is capable of inflicting on one of its own. I had a very, very difficult time reading this book. I have a twelve-year-old daughter, and I think it would be impossible for any mother of a girl to read this book and not too easily imagine the young girl and her body being violated, her soul being killed. Because of this, and also because the horrors just keep coming, rolling one after another like waves, with no relief, no hope in sight, I had to distance myself from Batuk emotionally. I would not have been able to finish the book otherwise.

I believe it is important for stories such as this one to be told, so that we don’t become complacent in our comfortable, American lives. I have to admit, though, that I feel helpless in the face of the knowledge that there are girls and boys out there living out the very conditions that Levine describes, helpless in the rage that I feel and yet my own inability to do anything.

Because of the subject matter, this is not a book I can rate five stars – it is not a book that I would thrust on everyone I see and say, “You must read this.” I know there are many people who would be unable to read this story without sinking into despair. Having said that, Levine has written an important book and told a story that took much bravery and compassion to relate.

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19 Responses to Book Review: The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

  1. I didn’t read your review because I’m going to read it soon, but I’m glad to see you liked it enough to give it a 4. I’m looking forward to it.

  2. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies
    says:

    Joy – I did like it, but it was very difficult to read, emotionally.

  3. Kathy says:

    I know this will be a difficult book to read. I also know it’s a book that I will talk about a lot while I’m reading it. Thanks for the review.

  4. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    This does sound very emotional. It is important that these books be written, but one would have to be in the right spirit to handle it I think. Did you ever see the doc “Born Into Brothels”? That is instantly what I thought of as soon as I read your review.

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  6. Staci says:

    I’m very eager to read this book. Sold by Patrica McCormick touches on this issue too but it is geared for the YA crowd. Great review…thanks!

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  8. jennygirl says:

    The level of poverty and injustice in other countries is mind blowing. Americans should be grateful for what we have and the opportunities we have to better ourselves.
    These are stories that need to be told, even though they make us cringe.
    Excellent review and your rating is sensible.

  9. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies
    says:

    Kathy – yes, it would help to talk about it as you read it. Unfortunately, my best friend, who is my book discussion partner, is gone for two weeks!

    Sandy – I haven’t seen that – I’m not sure I could handle it. There were a couple times I thought about putting this book aside.

    Staci – I’m looking for something happy to read for a while. πŸ™‚

    Jennygirl – Exactly – that’s how this book made me feel – very grateful.

  10. Robin of My Two Blessings
    Twitter: robnmccormack
    says:

    Wonderful review. I don’t know if I could handle it or not. I don’t do too well with books like this one. Too gut wrenching. Sounds intriguing though. I’ll have to think about this one. πŸ™‚

  11. Evy says:

    I totally understand the emotion with readin this book as I have a 12 year old daughter as well. I opt not to read it cause I don’t think I could get pass the prostitution. So sad.

  12. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies
    says:

    Robin – It is gut-wrenching – and it sticks with you – I’m still thinking about it today.

    Evy – It hit very close to home for me, because of my daughter.

  13. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna
    says:

    This one was difficult to read, but totally worth it. Great review.

  14. Margot says:

    You did a beautiful job handling the review of this book. You outlined the story clearly and then explained why this book was difficult to read from a mother’s perspective and a human perspective. Well written.

    I read a book last week (Jantsen’s Gift) by a woman who is working with people in Cambodia to get some of the girl prostitutes off the streets and give them hope for a better life. True story. Now that is a book I tell everyone to read.

  15. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies
    says:

    S. Krishna – thanks. πŸ™‚

    Margot – I’ve heard good things about Jantsen’s Gift – I may have to add it to my ever-expanding wish list.

  16. Diana
    Twitter: halahblue
    says:

    This book sounds excellent. I can see what you mean that it might not be for everyone though, but that also speaks (to me) to how well written the book is. Subject matter like this that isn’t well written, is just creepy and not at all worth reading. I agree Sandy — books like this need to be written — and read.

  17. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies
    says:

    Diana – you’re right, if it was poorly written, it would have been unbearable.

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