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The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

Pub Date:

The Blue Notebook
James A. Levine

Spiegel and Grau
7-09-09
Hardcover/224 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-52871-9
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". . .so clear and concise the reader will be swept away. . ."

The movie Slumdog Millionaire highlights the life of children living in the slums of Mumbai (Bombay) while The Blue Notebook digs into the heart of what it would be like to live in these slums.

Imagine that you are a nine-year old child living in a small rural town in India and suddenly you are wrenched out of your comfortable life filled with trips to the river and long drowsy afternoons. You will not see your parents or any familiar person for the rest of your life, and you are forced into slavery as a prostitute. How would you feel? What would be your thoughts?

The Blue Notebook begins with fifteen-year old Batuk telling the reader how exciting it is that she has been given the gift of a pencil. She has a notebook and has started a journal. At first it seems that she is writing about being a slave in a bakery, because she talks about making “sweet cake” and “baking classes”. However, the reader soon learns that this means something completely different, and that she has been making “sweet cake” since she arrived in the city. In her own words Batuk tells us she knows she is a prostitute, but that it makes her feel better to think of it in a different way.

As the novel unfolds so does Batuk’s life. The atrocities that have been visited upon her cannot be described here. Each paragraph brings more information about the devastation brought upon this innocent child who is sold to a man who tells her to call him uncle. Told in Batuk’s point of view the story, which goes from the present to her past as she remembers different parts of her life in flashbacks, focuses on Batuk’s experiences and those of the other children in this brothel of the streets. The reader comes to see that Batuk lives in her daydreams, and this gives her the strength to endure what she must to stay in the good graces of the “Hippopotamus” or the woman who is her boss.

Batuk’s spirit is what moves the reader to continue reading, because some parts are so disturbing that one has to stop reading as you realize these things were done to a nine-year old girl. Events in Mumbai propel Batuk to think beyond her tiny nest where she makes “sweet cake” with as many men as she can so she will get a little more food and rewards from the “Hippo”.

In the movie, viewers are brought into one of the “orphanages” that specialize in readying children for a life of begging. However, in this novel when Batuk lands in one of these so-called orphanages it is nothing like the movie. It is preparation for her time in the streets in what she calls her “nest”. By the time she lands in her “nest” Batuk has been sexually abused by several older men she must call “uncles”.She is barely past nine. The horror of this lives with the reader as the novel continues to show more and more of the seamy side of India’s commerce.

The writing is so clear and concise the reader will be swept away into Batuk’s dreams and thoughts. James A. Levine paints a picture of both rural and metropolitan India as he weaves Batuk’s story through the explosion of filth and decadence that pervades the slums of Mumbai and even into the wealthy classes.

Mr. Levine is a British doctor working at the Mayo Clinic who was inspired by a real life “Batuk” in the slums of Mumbai as he interviewed homeless children. He is donating his US royalties to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.icmec.org/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.icmec.org/missingkids/servlet/PageServlet?LanguageCountry=en_X1&PageId=3294). The authenticity of this novel makes for a compelling reason to read it.

Reviewer: Barbara Ehrentreu