Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

The Blue Notebook: A NovelOnce in a while a book comes along that catches me unawares, surprises the heck out of me and then stays in my head for days and weeks afterward.  Mind you, it doesn’t happen all that often but when it does, the book earns its rightful place on my private “best of…” list and shares its glory with timeless classics. Why do I give you this elaborate beginning? Because sadly, in today’s literary world there aren’t all that many books of value and when I finally do find one, I cherish it all the more. The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine is all of the above.

Levine’s novel is a story of Batuk, a 15-year-old Indian girl sold to prostitution by her parents when she was only 9. She somehow manages to keep ‘her head above water’ in the cruel world of sexual terrors, drugs, murder and violence. Batuk gets hold of a notebook and a pencil and starts writing down her life. Detail after heartbreaking detail, the reader gets to find out what Batuk does, how she got cheated out of the life she dreamed of having and what a beautiful, soulful girl she still remained despite of what’s been done to her.

As I mentioned already, this is one, heartbreaking story. What makes it so tragic is not even the fictional character of  Batuk (as horrifying as her life is) but the fact that children all over the world, not only India, suffer this very real fate of child exploitation. This one thing just wouldn’t leave my mind all the time I was reading The Blue Notebook. I really applaud Mr. Levine for being brave enough to write such a difficult and shocking book, as it must not have been easy writing the pretty horrific sex scenes involving children. Amidst all this calamity, he somehow managed to make Batuk be a wonderful, innocent and resilient girl.
For a small in size novel, The Blue Notebook delivers a “sucker punch” of emotions.

A shocking story aside, what I probably liked and appreciated the most is the spare, yet powerful prose the book is written in.  I couldn’t believe that the author is a doctor from Minessota and not an Indian writer or at least somebody who spend a lifetime in India. That’s how real and believable the voice of Batuk seemed to me. I didn’t doubt for a moment that I held in my hands a work of a very talented writer and I hope that Mr. Levine will write more. For now though, The Blue Notebook is plenty enough and I think it’s an important work of fiction that should be read by as many people as possible because of the difficult subject it deal with.

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I think it’s important to mention that all the proceeds from The Blue Notebook are donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children. If you want to know more, please visit their website: http://icmec.org