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.