The Blue Notebook – Book Review

blue-notebookThe 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.

Don’t wait!  Buy this book from:
A local independent bookseller via Indiebound

Thank you to Spiegel & Grau for sending me this book to review.

28 comments to The Blue Notebook – Book Review

  • I hated this book and have discouraged people I know from reading it. I thought its interest in the main character was prurient and repulsive, and that the ending was more of the same, showing that there’s no hope for girls like this and thus no reason to read fiction about such horrors. Read the news stories instead is what I say.
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie =-.

  • Looks like we had the same reaction to this beautiful yet disturbing book. It feels strange to call it a good book, but it is. It’s haunting. I read it several months ago and it’s still with me. And I totally agree, everyone should read this.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..The Castaways =-.

  • Thanks for this! The more I read your reviews, the more I think we have the same taste in books.

    And I love that you didn’t delete Jeanne’s comment above! It’s great that people with different views can chime in.
    .-= Alexis Grant´s last blog ..Mind passing the peas to my manuscript? We’re in a fight. =-.

  • I keep reading such great reviews of this book. It is interesting that it is written by a middle aged man. Makes me even more interested in the book.
    .-= stacybuckeye´s last blog ..A reminder of a few giveaways… =-.

  • I have heard a lot of great buzz about this book and am looking forward to reading it — thanks for the review!
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Review — Something Rotten =-.

  • Sounds like a powerful book. I can’t wait to read it! Terrific review.
    .-= Julie P.´s last blog ..Review: How Perfect is That =-.

  • I got this as review copy. When I saw that the proceeds went to an important cause, I went and bought my own copy. Now I just have to read it.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Review: Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy =-.

  • I’ll be reading this one soon. I know it won’t be an easy book to read, but I know it’s about an important issue.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..The Castaways: Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway =-.

  • I have this one on my stack to read, I took it with us on vacation, but didn’t get around to it. I’m sort of glad, I think it sounds like way to serious a subject to read whilst touring through the California redwoods! (Dang, my state of California is broke, overtaxed, over-regulated, and a total mess….but wow…we’re purty!! I’ve lived here for 22 years and am just now seeing Big Sur and the redwoods!)
    .-= Kelly @The Novel Bookworm´s last blog ..Review: The Shimmer by David Morrell =-.

  • I agree with your review as well. I couldn’t get the book out of mind for days after I finished it. Levine has a great story-telling ability even with such a gruesome subject matter. It is something people need to be aware of, that’s the point of books. To introduce you to worlds and experiences outside of your comfort level.
    .-= Nari – The Novel World´s last blog ..Iran Awakening – Review =-.

  • I have this one, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It sounds depressing and disturbing, but I’ve heard some good things about it. Thanks for the review!
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..I’m back…and I already need ANOTHER vacation! =-.

  • I agree, not a fun book to read, but an important book nonetheless. One we should read.
    .-= WordLily´s last blog ..The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine =-.

  • My face to face book club was supposed to read this then changed the book for that month. Sounds like something I still need to pick up.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog .."What The Dead Know" =-.

  • I haven’t read this yet but I have it. I definitely think books like this are so important to read, but that doesn’t make it much easier for me to approach it.
    .-= Meghan´s last blog ..Guest Review: Beach Trip, Cathy Holton =-.

  • I guess I didn’t mean to sound so strident. Is it rude to express an opposite point of view in someone’s comments? I’m used to academic book discussions, where people actually like it if you disagree because it livens up the discussion.
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie =-.

    • Argh, I wrote a whole reply to you and my site ate it. I have no problem with you expressing a different opinion, I think it just stood out more, and was perhaps more jarring, because it was the first comment. I do actually like to hear the opposing point of view (except from the people who say “OMG! You didn’t like Twilight? You SUCK!!!1!”).

      I can see how you would feel the way you do about this book, but (obviously) I disagree. To me, the lack of redemption for Batuk at the end of the book pointed out that this is not something we can simply ignore and the lives of these girls will improve, people need to intervene.

  • I’ve heard some really great things about this one. The first comment above is the first negative thing I’ve heard about it. Perhaps those who dislike the book should, rather than outright discouraging people to read it, explain that it is a touchy subject and not for people who like escapist fiction and happy endings. I think that we all can agree that it is an important topic–something just starting to come to light in literature and the news–and maybe after reading this book people will, regardless of their feelings about this work of fiction, be more inclined to tune in to news stories regarding this topic.
    .-= J.T. Oldfield´s last blog ..Becoming Jane =-.

  • Something else: There are several books that focus this topic. I haven’t read a lot on this topic, but I’ve heard that Somaly Mam’s autobiography The Road of Lost Innocence is supposed to be good, true, and a sort of happy ending, because as the subtitle goes, “As a girl she was sold into sex slavery but now she rescues others”. Perhaps people who were dissatisfied with the Blue Notebook would like this better.
    .-= J.T. Oldfield´s last blog ..Becoming Jane =-.

  • This is a book that we should buy, you’re right. Great review on this book which touches upon such a horrific epidemic not just in India but worldwide. I think the sheer poverty forces a lot of these families to “sell” their daughters into this life. Very sad.
    .-= Staci´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesdays and It’s Tuesday….Where Are You? =-.

  • Hmm, what you say about the ending makes sense. I can compare it to the unsatisfying ending of The Handmaid’s Tale, where you don’t know for sure if she escaped, so you need to work to make sure that a woman can never end up in a situation like that.
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..A Birthday Poem =-.

  • Great review! I just posted my review of The Blue Notebook today and like you found it to be a hard but ultimately important book to read.
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..The Blue Notebook =-.

  • Well-done review and I agree with everything you’ve said. A difficult book, a difficult subject but people need to know, it’s as simple as that.
    .-= Tara´s last blog ..How I Hit the Book Jackpot =-.

  • Agreed – even normal library users should buy this one. If you only buy one book this year, this one should be it!
    .-= Michele´s last blog ..Jackie and Bobby….Whatcha Think? =-.

  • Oooh, gotta add this one to my wishlist. Thanks for the review and the insight about how this story should be read widely. You are right on target.
    .-= Karen H.´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: Back from Oregon =-.

  • Wonderful review! I haven’t read it but it is on my TBR. I so agree with what you said'”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.”

    Great job!
    .-= Teddy´s last blog ..Mailbox Mondays =-.

  • Fantastic review! What an amazing book and very interesting that it was written by a man! I’ll definitely add this to my Wish List.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..The Sunday Salon: Changing Habits and a Rant =-.

  • Ariel

    I guess I am in the minority here, but I also did not find the inner beauty of this book. It WAS well written, but the story seemed misogynistic and gratuitous. I realize that it was supposed to be shocking (so as to really make you feel for the plight of the main character) but this was over the top. I saw another review that equated it to the likes of an erotic/slasher film which sumarized what I kept thinking but couldn’t put my finger on while reading it.