Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

Dear Reader:

Every now and then, we come across a novel that moves us like no other, that seems like a miracle of the imagination, and that haunts us long after the book is closed. James Levine’s The Blue Notebook is that kind of book. It is the story of Batuk, an Indian girl who is taken to Mumbai from the countryside and sold into prostitution by her father; the blue notebook is her diary, in which she recalls her early childhood, records her life on the Common Street, and makes up beautiful and fantastic tales about a silver-eyed leopard and a poor boy who fells a giant with a single gold coin.

How did Levine, a British-born doctor at the Mayo Clinic, manage to conjure the voice of a fifteen-year-old female Indian prostitute? It all began, he told me, when, as part of his medical research, he was interviewing homeless children on a street in Mumbai known as the Street of Cages, where child prostitutes work. A young woman writing in a notebook outside her cage caught Levine’s attention. The powerful image of a young prostitute engaged in the act of writing haunted him, and he himself began to write.

The Blue Notebook
brings us into the life of a young woman for whom stories are not just entertainment but a means of survival. Even as the novel humanizes and addresses the devastating global issue of child prostitution, it also delivers an inspiring message about the uplifting power of words and reading–a message that is so important to hold on to, especially in difficult times. Dr. Levine is donating all his U.S. proceeds from this book to help exploited children. Batuk’s story can make a difference.


Celina Spiegel
Quote from Random House Website

I received a copy of this book back when it first came out and read it soon after. Unfortunately, it is one of many books I really wanted to review and am only now getting around to! I wish I was better with reviewing because I know I am not really doing these fantastic books justice, but at the same time I feel like I should say something! I know now that I am never going to review everything that I read this year, but I am still going to try and get through some of them.

This is a book that I honestly feel like all I can say to give it justice is that you really need to read it. I won't say that I loved the book. It's more than this book blew me away. I was impressed that a male, middle-class citizen could get inside the head of a female prostitute and tell her story so brilliantly. It is hard to get in the head of the other sex, we all know that to be true, so when authors tackle the opposite as their main characters it can be a bit hit-or-miss. This was a hit. Levine told this story of Batuk in such clarity that you could honestly feel that you were reading the diary of a 15-year-old girl who was living these experiences. It is even safe to say that it read more like non-fiction than fiction.

This book is actually pretty short. That's actually why I read it when I did. It just arrived in the mail and I wanted a short book to feel a bit accomplished. What I got was a book that will stick with me for a long time. It was fate because so many books I want to read and they wind up sitting on my TBR pile forever, but I read this one right away and I am so glad that I did! I still wish I had reviewed this a bit closer to reading it. I remember the general storyline, but I am afraid details are asking a bit much!

A very special thanks to Random House for sending me a copy of this book! I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise! (This is one of the reasons why I love review copies of books. And, the library. Both are great for getting you out of your comfort zone!)


  1. Sounds like it could be interesting. Like you, I may not have picked this up on my own but it sounds good now. May have to check it out some time and add it to my already growing covet list. Looks like a monster has been created!!! :P

  2. I was blown away by this book as well and I believed in Batuk completely. It's definitely not a book where yo are comfortable saying that you loved it, but it was so compelling and well done.

  3. I'm going to give this a shot. Thanks for the review, Kelly!

  4. I enjoyed reading your review. The book sounds haunting.

  5. Thanks for your review. I've read a few others and this sounds like it would be an excellent choice for my book club. Difficult, yet thought-provoking, right? Lots to discuss?

  6. I read this one as an ARC, too, and it's very powerful and moving. I didn't even know you read it! I agree with you that it's amazing Levine was able to get inside the head of an Indian child prostitute...

  7. Anonymous10:19 PM

    I thought this book was pretty amazing, although it was pretty heartbreaking, especially the end. Great review!

  8. Vanessa: It was good. You can always borrow my copy if you really want to read it!

    Nicole: It was very compelling and very well done. I entirely agree!

    Diane: Great way to sum it up

    Alice: Hope you enjoy it!

    Suko: Thanks!

    Les: Yes and yes. I hope they enjoy it!

  9. Sounds like an emotional ride. I'll keep this one in mind since I like books about India. I've also read about the Street of Cages...and someone made a documentary about it.

  10. I am really looking forward to reading this one and am glad to hear you recommend it. It's one of those books that I immediately knew I had to read when I first heard about it.


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