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.
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.
After 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.