jess's Reviews > The Blue Notebook

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine
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Feb 10, 10

bookshelves: 2010, fiction, audiobook-d
Read in January, 2010

The Blue Notebook was written by a British-born doctor from the Mayo Clinic, Dr. James Levine. As part of his medical research, he interviewed homeless children in Mumbai. This book came from those interviews, the main character is inspired by one small girl sitting outside her cage writing in a notebook. I was very skeptical of an author who writes from a place of incredible amount of privilege in the voice of an extremely marginalized protagonist, but I suspended judgement until after I read it. Proceeds from the US sale of this book are donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children. This book contains fairly graphic accounts of the rape and abuse of children; be forewarned. This is definitely for more mature readers.

I audiobook'd this on my drive to work, and it had a profound experience on me every time I got in the car. It was hard to listen to when I was alone with the narrator and only traffic to distract me. The subject matter is upsetting, can I emphasize this enough? I was left with a profound sense of obligation to humanity to help solve this problem, but the book didn't have answers - only more questions and despair. There are organizations out there working to help these kids - my favorite is CRY (Child Rights and You) and they can be found at www.cry.org. They do really great work addressing the multiplicity of issues that affect children's rights in India.

So, this is Batuk's journal. She's a 15 year old girl in Mumbai, sold into a life of sex slavery on the Common Street by her father at the age of 9. She has survived TB, abandonment by her father, the brutal orphanages of Mumbai, and innumerable counts of rape and abuse. Her daily life is lived in a small cage, in a wall of other child prostitutes who also live in small cages, where up to 10 men each day "visit" her. The narrator's voice is sincere and her delivery is matter-of-fact. She is separated from her reality by her imaginative fantasy life, where she lives in a gilded room instead of a tiny dirty nest, where men are "bakers" who bake "sweetcakes" with her instead of paying customers who fuck a little girl. In her imagination, her friend, Puneet, is a prince on a throne, worshipped by a parade of his devotees all day; this is in sharp contrast to his reality as a castrated 14 year old boy who nearly dies after being raped by two police officers.

This book does carry a sort of uplifting sentiment. Batuk's optimism, perseverance, cheer and steadiness provide a welcome alternative to the sadness of life for exploited children, and there is a sense that the human spirit can transcend these most miserable circumstances. Her imagination and storytelling go against the adversity she faces. Several people have compared this book to Anne Frank's diary, which is not entirely accurate but gives you a sense of the intention of the message.

Batuk's vivid imagination allows her some distance from daily life. Her days are the mostly the same, making sweetcake with up to ten men a day and watching the comings and goings of the Common Street where she lives, until a Mumbai billionaire rents Batuk. Out of her cage, into a car, into a luxury hotel where she is scrubbed down, dressed up, made over, and handed over to the billionaire's son. The contrast between life on the street and life in the hotel is an alarming shift for Batuk - who has never ridden in an elevator or ordered room service. But this is no "Pretty Woman" story. There is no heart of gold or redemption here. Batuk's story is so horrifying and terribly sad, I couldn't even cry over this book. I was just paralyzed by sorrow and left alone with my grief.
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message 1: by Janki (new) - added it

Janki I felt the same way...in fact I had to skip over the end of one of the final chapters (in the hotel) because I just couldn't take listening to it in the the car. I'm Indian American and was left deeply moved, troubled, and haunted. It's a book you need therapy after reading. I was shocked to learn of the author's background.


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