Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: The Blue Notebook

Title: The Blue Notebook

Author: James A. Levine, MD

Publisher: Spiegal & Grau

# of Pages: 224

Rating: 9/10

This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.

Product Description
A haunting yet astonishingly hopeful story of a young Indian prostitute who uses writing and imagination to transcend her reality.

An unforgettable, deeply affecting tribute to the powers of imagination and the resilience of childhood, The Blue Notebook tells the story of Batuk, a precocious 15-year-old girl from rural India who was sold into sexual slavery by her father when she was nine. As she navigates the grim realities of the Common Street—a street of prostitution in Mumbai where children are kept in cages as they wait for customers to pay for sex—Batuk manages to put pen to paper, recording her private thoughts and stories in a diary. The novel is powerfully told in Batuk’s voice, through the words she writes in her journal, where she finds hope and beauty in the bleakest circumstances.

Beautifully crafted and deeply human, The Blue Notebook explores how people, in the most difficult of situations, can use storytelling to make sense of and give meaning to their lives. All of the U.S. proceeds from this novel will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children (
Upton Sinclair wrote a painfully graphic book about the horrors of Chicago's meat-packing district, The Jungle. He later famously said, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Dr. Levine does much the same in his book, The Blue Notebook. This is one of the most difficult and painful books I have ever read. Batuk writes in a beautifully lyrical voice, and so it is all the more jarring when she turns from her happy and playful thoughts and dreams to the graphic details that form the stark reality of her life.

I do not have a favorite quote from this book. It is by turns gorgeous and terrifying. There were pages that made me shudder and I admit that there were at least two pages that I was unable to finish reading. I had to skip ahead. This is not a book to read on the train or to wile away a spare half hour. I was close to tears on my morning commute yesterday.

Levine's book is calculated to reach you in that manner. It is written almost as a series of inter-related vignettes more than as a novel. A girl from rural India who, by chance, learns how to read. The apple of her father's eye, who is then sold to a stranger. A seasoned prostitute on the Common Street of Mumbai, taking spare moments to write about the voices of old trees and wise tigers. A poor young woman who dreams about expensive and gorgeous hats. A magical story about the silver-eyed snow leopard, and the power that someone's hope can save them from a miserable situation.

All US proceeds from this book will be donated to charity. It is not an easy book to read. But while some books are read for pleasure, others are read to gain an understanding of our world. This book is in the latter category. Just as Sinclair did in The Jungle, Levine will aim for your heart and hit you in the gut.


  1. I read this book as well and felt the same way. The phrase "gorgeous and terrifying is so apt."

  2. What an awful fate, it does sound like those books you just have to read

  3. Glad to see you liked this book better than your last couple reads!

  4. The book sounds haunting and heartbreaking.

  5. You captured the horror and beauty of this book you your eloquent review. Excellent job. I added it to my TBR.

  6. Sounds simply horrifying. I agree, you have captured the essence of the book quite well. I shuddered as I read your review.

  7. I have read some other reviews that concur with yours. It sounds like a really painful and dark read. You expressed your thoughts on this book with great eloquence, and although it will be hard to read, I think I will try to tackle this one soon.

  8. I have this in my bookcase, but everyone keeps warning me about how gutwrenching it is. At least I know what to reach for when I've built up the courage... :)


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