The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine
“The Blue Notebook” is a beautiful, haunting, disturbing story of a young girl sold into sexual slavery in India. Batuk, now 15, was taken to Mumbai at 9 years old by her seemingly-loving father and sold into a brothel. Batuk goes back and forth between telling her story in the present and speaking of parts of her past: her time spent with the vicious Mumbai street gang as an older man’s ‘wife,’ her first days as a sexual slave and prostitute, and the happier times back in her village.
I would have liked to know what exactly prompted her family, who seemed to care about her, to sell Batuk into these horrors, but she did not know (or really even seem to question), and as the story is comprised of what she is writing in her diary, it would probably have been fairly unbelieveable for Levine to introduce some sort of plot point detailing how exactly she found out why her family had been forced to do this. It is interesting, though, that she never seems to wonder about why she has been reduced to this fate. I also would have liked to know how exactly she came by the notebook, since the first chapter of the book is focused on detailing exactly how she came by her pencil. Still, these questions did not detract for me from the overall power of Batuk’s story.
You would never guess that the author is a middle-aged British man. James Levine based this book on an interview he conducted with a young prostitute who drew his attention sitting outside of her cage writing in a notebook in Mumbai. He completely nails the voice of a 15 year old girl who is now focused only on survival and who has clear trauma that has made her disassociate. The writing was gorgeous, even though the story was disturbing.
I think that this is the sort of book that should be read widely. It is true that the subject matter keeps this book from being enjoyable in the truest sense of the word, but it is a very good book. More importantly, it is crucial for people to be aware of the conditions that face children like Batuk around the world, because these horrors cannot be stopped if we allow ourselves to ignore them.
This is one you really should go out and buy. Don’t wait for it on a book trading site, don’t get it from your local library. Buy it at the vendor of your choice, because 100% of the proceeds in the U.S. are going to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.
Thank you to Spiegel & Grau for sending me this book to review.