The Blue Notebook – James A. Levine, copyright, 2009.
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: August Social Justice Challenge
When Batuk was young, she was very sick with tuberculosis and was sent away to the missionary hospital to recover. It was there she was taught to read and write by a caring nurse, a loving priest and a visiting teacher. Her father is filled with pride by the knowledge that a child of his can read. That pride does not prevent him, however, from selling Batuk into sexual slavery at the age of nine. Distraught after her abandonment, the precocious Batuk begins keeping a record of her life in the brothel and writing fantastic tales when she is not busy “baking sweet cake” with the men who frequent her nest. Used and abused, Batuk slowly becomes a dead soul responsible for servicing the more worthy in her society. Physical abuse and rape are only the beginning for the young girl. Her life is altered dramatically when a man shows up one night and takes her away in a dark car. Suddenly, Batuk finds herself pining for the safety of her nest and the “protection” of her old pimp. Through the worst of events, Batuk takes refuge in her writing; it is the only place for her to find solace and it is the only place where she matters. As her spirit becomes increasingly dead Batuk records her parched soul on paper. She begins storing everything that is inside of her for an unknown future.
“This is the philosophy of the prostitute. I am who I am only at this moment in time; my past does not hang from my shoulders and my future is indefinable and so cannot be a concern. I am nothing else and there is nothing else.” Page 134, The Blue Notebook.
In truth, the real story is not the tragedy endured by a young girl, but the way in which she found an escape in her storytelling and turned her writing into an outlet for her suffering.
The story is not particularly strong on plot and I risk giving things away if I recount too much. Suffice to say, it is a terribly, terribly tragic tale. Often poignant and frequently graphic, we are given a peek into the underbelly of Indian society. If you thought Slumdog Millionaire was a graphic portrayal of life in the slums of Mumbai, you are in for a real surprise.
I want to say that this book was filled with a beautiful panache of literary prose, but of course it wasn’t. James A. Levine is, after all, a man of science, not literature. The writing was, instead, simple, clear-cut and compelling. A professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Levine recounts, in a telling afterword, his inspiration behind The Blue Notebook beginning with his kidnapping in Delhi in 2002. Levine has taken the horror of his own experiences and turned them into a positive; he is speaking out for those trapped in sexual slavery the world over.
I am still working on a new, more comprehensive rating system so I don’t have any official rating to give this just yet. I can say it wasn’t perfect. I would have enjoyed a more complex plot, but as it was, I was unable to put the book down. I sailed through this one in an afternoon. Let’s say four to four-and-a-half stars out of five.