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#165 ~ The Blue Notebook

cover-of-the-blue-notebook

The Blue Notebook by James Levine

The Blue Notebook tells the story of Batuk, a 9-year-old girl who is sold by her family into prostitution in Mumbai.  We meet Batuk as a more experienced prostitute, living in what she calls a nest. It is from there that she lures her clients, makes “sweet cakes” with them, and writes in her blue notebook about her experiences. Batuk makes the best of her life and enjoys a friendship with Puneet, the only male prostitute in the group.  Puneet is the most popular prostitute in the house because he’s male, but Batuk learned her craft well and is the favorite female.  She found ways to be the most pleasing to her clients because it took them longer to finish, they paid and tipped better, and she needed to see fewer men each day that way.  It is her excellent service that earns her a break from the streets and a stay at a fancy hotel in Mumbai for with a wealthy client.  What happens there changes her life forever, but not in the the “Pretty Woman” way to which we are accustomed in the Western world.

Mumbai

Mumbai

I do not normally have difficulty reading dark subject matter.  I do much better with reading material than with movies in that regard.  This book was extremely troubling for me, especially during the sections where told of her family selling her into prostitution and where she was initiated into the life.  She was only nine years old and I could not separate my daughters from Batuk during those scenes, no matter how hard I tried.  I cannot imagine getting to the point where I would sell them into such a life.  I cannot fathom my husband taking her on such a trip and leaving her there.  I would walk the streets myself 24 hours a day first.  I would tear my own heart out first.  Yet I know that this is a luxury afforded me because I live where I live and have a job that is more than capable of supporting our family, even in these rough economic times.

The Blue Notebook is well written and in many parts quite lyrical.  For the most part it conveys Batuk’s story from the perspective and with the insight of a young girl working as a prostitute.  The way in which she describes her work made absolute sense to me.  From the beginning she associates what she does with sweet cakes and all humans play tricks with language to make the harshness of our realities more palatable.  There are times where I felt the narrator came off as too well educated, even after her ability to read and write were explained.  This didn’t hinder me while I was reading the novel and it most certainly didn’t take me out of the story.  It is true that living such a life would certainly force a young girl to grow up quickly, but there is a difference between growing up and having such a sophisticated thought processes. This really is a minor point considering that Batuk’s story was inspired by the site of a Mumbai street prostitute writing in a notebook.

prostitutionAfter Batuk’s initiation, I put my book down and contemplated never picking it back up.  It wasn’t necessarily because it was so graphic, but because I kept screaming, “She’s only nine!” inside my head the entire time.  I contacted some of my reading friends, who encouraged me to finish it.  A novel that has the power to affect the reader in this way is too important to be left unread.  I picked it back up after a couple of hours and finished it before I went to sleep that night.  Despite the subject matter, I couldn’t put it down again. The Blue Notebook is a powerful novel. While I can’t say that I enjoyed it in a traditional way, I am grateful for the opportunity to read it.  Now that Batuk is a part of me, I can no longer look the other way.

******

In The Blue Notebook, James Levine does more than just sheds light on what is happening in this world. By donating all United States proceeds from the sales of this novel to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children, he is helping to make a difference.

To pre-order this novel, which will be published on July 7, 2009, click here.  

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24 Comments

  • At 2009.05.20 09:14, Sandy said:

    I just read another review of this one (can’t remember who, as usual) and you both said something almost identical to each other, which is that this book is too important not to be read. It reminded me a bit of the documentary that won an Oscar a few years ago called Born Into Brothels. Awesome movie, heartbreaking circumstances. Great review, as always!

    Sandy’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

    • At 2009.05.20 10:46, Ti said:

      I am starting this one in a few days. I’ve been putting it off because of all the reviews I’ve been reading. I think this one would be especially hard for anyone with kids. I don’t see how you can read it without thinking of your own while doing so.

      Sigh. Hope I can get through it.

      Ti’s last blog post..GIVEAWAY! Love & Biology at the Center of the Universe

      • At 2009.05.20 11:24, Kathy said:

        I imagine this will be a troubling book to read, but I think it is important for us to be aware of the things – good and bad – that are going on in the world around us. Great review.

        Kathy’s last blog post..Wondrous Words Wednesday

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        • At 2009.05.20 12:05, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

          This was a great review, Jennifer. I’m glad you were able to go back and finish the book. I hope more people read this book and have it become a(n albeit disturbing) part of them. Books such as this, “The Translator” and “Tears of the Desert” need to become a part of more people so that our society stops turning a blind eye to these injustices.

          …And we’ll see if I still feel the same way after I read this in a few weeks.

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          • At 2009.05.20 12:26, bethany (Dreadlock Girl) said:

            I wanted to request this one, but I don’t handle mistreatment of kids well, or sexual stuff either. I decided to not….but I love international books and books about India, so I am really torn.

            Great review.

            bethany (Dreadlock Girl)’s last blog post..Friday Night, Movie Night.

            • At 2009.05.20 12:36, Michele said:

              This is turning out to be an expensive trip through blogland I’m taking today. I’ve already ordered 2 books that I found reviews on today and yours will be the third….I just don’t see how I can NOT read this book. Thanks so much for reviewing it and putting it out here for us!

              Michele’s last blog post..Review: Twilight of Avalon

              • At 2009.05.20 12:49, Darlene said:

                I’ve got this one in my tbr pile and will be reading it soon. It sounds like quite the emotional read but worth it in the end.

                Darlene’s last blog post..Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

                • At 2009.05.20 14:07, lilly said:

                  I am glad to know that you finished readin this book. I agree that any book with such powerfully conveyed messages should not be left unread.
                  I enjoy reading about the dark side of humanity but I completely understand why you were tormented by what was done to the girl. As a mother I very often identify and experience books about children much more than another reader who may not be a parent.

                  lilly’s last blog post..Blessed Are The Meek by Zofia Kossak

                  • At 2009.05.20 19:01, Literate Housewife said:

                    Sandy, I want to see Born in Brothels. I’ve heard it’s really well done and deserving of the Oscar. I’m sure that it would leave a similar feeling.

                    Ti, if you can make it past the scenes where her father brings her to the brothel and she’s initiated into the life, you’ll be fine. For me, those really were the most difficult passages I’ve ever read.

                    Kathy, you’re very right about that. It’s easy to get complacent in a comfortable life.

                    Jen, thanks for being one of those who talked me back into the book. Like I said, make it past the initiation and it’s better – not to say that it’s easy.

                    Bethany, what makes this novel so difficult is that it can and does happen. You really need to be in the right place for it. It’s really powerful if you can make it all the way through, though.

                    Michele, you’re welcome. I’m going to keep my eye out for your review. I would like to see this book used in a college course.

                    Darlene, I’m going to look forward to your review, too.

                    Lily, I am definitely glad that I finished it. As much as it is about such a horrible reality, it might be good for young people to read. It’s so easy growing up to get caught up in things and ourselves. We need to do more for others who can’t fight for themselves.

                    Literate Housewife’s last blog post..#165 ~ The Blue Notebook

                    • At 2009.05.20 23:10, softdrink said:

                      This sounds too dark, even for me. But I must say, the cover is absolutely beautiful.

                      softdrink’s last blog post..for the life of me I can’t think of a title

                      • At 2009.05.21 02:07, Violet said:

                        This is a very heavy subject, but it’s also something like needs to be talked about. Being an Indian I would love to see how the author has written this book.

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                        • At 2009.05.21 21:46, Marcia said:

                          This one is on my wish list.

                          Marcia’s last blog post..Pondering the pages ~ Who Do You Think You Are?: A Memoir by Alyse Myers

                          • At 2009.05.21 22:51, nat @ book, line, and sinker said:

                            i read about this novel on a few other blogs and am on the fence…i know that avoiding it doesn’t make it less real for children who have gone through this horrible fate…but i’m not sure i can read about it in such graphic detail. your review is really convincing, though…i might have to read it.

                            nat @ book, line, and sinker’s last blog post..Are You Experienced: Have you been published?

                            • At 2009.05.23 21:46, Kiki said:

                              I’m getting a copy any day now. Sounds, well, depressing but necessary??

                              • At 2009.05.25 07:24, Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said:

                                “Now that Batuk is a part of me, I can no longer look the other way.” … what a powerful statement in your review!

                                I have this in my TBR, but I’m waiting until the weather is nice enough to read outside (a few good days!). I think sun shining down on me will help me get thru the tough spots in this one.

                                Dawn – She is Too Fond of Books’s last blog post..Children’s Book Review: *Slob* by Ellen Potter

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                                    • At 2009.06.03 23:44, Michele said:

                                      I’m so excited…this one just came in the mail today (via the Vine programs) and I can’t wait to start it.

                                      Michele’s last blog post..Book Expo Scandal

                                      • At 2009.06.10 19:25, Jennie Nash said:

                                        I am visiting forthe first time, via Readers’ Respite. Your review was very moving. I look forward to visiting again soon. (I’m a Berkley/Penguin author, just coming up for air from novel #3…) Cheers!

                                        Jennie Nash’s last blog post..Six Word Stories

                                        • At 2009.06.22 10:02, Anna said:

                                          This one’s in my TBR pile. I can see I’m in for a difficult read, especially since my daughter turns 9 next month. Thanks for the review…and the warning!
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                                                • At 2010.07.26 09:49, carmen said:

                                                  Can someone tell me if there is a difference in the 2009 version and the 2010 version besides the cover of “The Blue notebook?

                                                  (Required)
                                                  (Required, will not be published)

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