Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine


The Blue Notebook was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. Written by Dr. James A. Levine, this book follows the experiences of a young nine year old girl over a period of six years, during which time she is a sexual slave, serving up to ten men per day in the red light district of Mumbai. The underbelly of the rich, the poor, and those who serve them is brought to light through Batuk's interactions with a slew of disreputable individuals.

Author James A. Levine somehow manages very well to give a voice to the central character, Batuk, as she deals with her thoughts and one traumatic experience after another. Her innocence is stolen in one frightening moment, and from that point on her resilience to the world hardens. She likens herself to a clay bowl that can be anything, but once hardened becomes more fragile and can break.

This book leaves more questions than answers, but questions worth exploring. I'm left wondering if her father understood what he was doing when he sold her to Mr. Gahil. What precisely put her father in the position of needing to sell his daughter? Our only indication is that he says he is sorry and that he has lost everything as he parts with Batuk. Apparently they did not lose "everything" since he still had cash to bring her to Mumbai from his rural farming community and throw her a feast before her departure. There are so many more questions that remain unanswered but would be excellent to discuss in a book club.

The quality of the writing is as near flawless as I've read in a long time. The scenery is brought to life through rich but simple details. Batuk's state of mind is easily understood and explained as she tells her story in her journal.

Many people who otherwise would be too sickened to finish this book might be able to handle this short two hundred page book. Scenes of child rape occur frequently along with an even possibly more gruesome scene near the end. Wrapping up the story, Batuk writes a beautiful story of the Silver-eyed Leopard, taking up approximately ten pages. Even though the story is sad, it was the one bright spot in the book because it was a fairy tale told to her by her father.

As the problems that face the poor in India continue to swell, I can't imagine the issue of child sexual slavery and human trafficking getting better anytime soon. However, the author is donating 100% of the US proceeds from this novel to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.icmec.org). My hope is that more children can be saved from this life.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, if you feel you can handle the material. The purchase goes for a good cause and your awareness of this ongoing situation will be heightened. The fact is, if every time you hear gruesome words like "child rape" you close your eyes and your ears, how can you possibly know what is going on? Dr. James A. Levine has made it easy for us by interviewing and writing about a real live child sexual slave in Mumbai, whom this story is loosely based upon. He's written the story for us and he giving the profits away to help alleviate this problem. As the world shines more light on this issue, the rats who rule this underworld will find less places to hide. Hopefully, with time, they will become extinct.