Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: The Blue Notebook

Book: The Blue Notebook

Author: James Levine

My Rating: 4 Stars

My Review: A painful and disturbing book about child prostitution in India. Graphic descriptions and disturbing subject matter. Recommended only for adults.

I thought reading Lolita was hard. Reading about child predators and they way their mind worked scared me and it definitely wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Compared to the Blue Notebook, Lolita was a chick-lit!

The Blue Notebook is about Child Prostitution. James Levine, the author of the book is a doctor with the Mayo Clinic. As part of his work for the Clinic, he interviewed children in “The Street of Cages” – a famous prostitution street in Mumbai, India. While interviewing the kids, he was intrigued by a girl who sat outside her “cage” writing in a notebook. An in depth interview with the girl formed the basis of this novel.

Before I describe the book or my views of it, I have to mention that this book is only for adults. The descriptions are graphic and the subject matter is depressing (to say the least).

Batuk Ramsdeen was living with her family in a small village in Central India. When she was 9 years old, her father takes her Mumbai. Batuk is never warned about what she is getting in to. Her father takes her to meet someone and even before she realizes it, he leaves her never to return. And at that point, Batuk’s life changes forever. She is forced into prostitution. Her virginity is sold to the highest bidder; she is raped repeatedly until she breaks her defense; and she is beaten mercilessly by some of the customers. Her “nest” becomes her world. Batuk is an intelligent girl with a sense of imagination and that helps her get through her life. She imagines her “nest” to be a kingdom and her bed “the throne”. She uses euphemisms to describe what she has been forced to do. Even euphemisms cannot hide the sad state of affairs. When she finally gets her hand on a pencil, Batuk starts writing a journal. She writes about herself and her friend who lives in a nest two floors down – Puneet. Puneet is a pretty little boy who is eventually castrated to retain his “feminism” that he might have lost growing up. Batuk’s description of her life is somehow very detached. She writes about incidences, never about her feelings and emotions. I guess that was her way of dealing with her own. She never stopped to think about how she actually felt about the whole thing.

Batuk is not a character that you can identify yourself with. And she is not meant to be. At many parts in the book, she comes across as manipulative and cunning. Her character is in contrast to that of Puneet’s. Puneet is sweet and innocent and manages to retain a bit of the child in him despite everything that happens to him. Batuk on the other hand, is completely aware of her scenario. She is rational and uses almost “too adult” for her age. When she gets philosophical, it is hard to imagine that the words come from a teenager.

I must mention here that I found the ending of the book to be ambiguous. There is no explanation for the chain of events and you are left to form your own conclusions. I have to accept that I actually liked the way it ended. It just seemed very synchronous with the world that Levine was trying to introduce us to.

There is no pretty way to say Batuk’s story. As much as I found this extremely hard to read (I cried and had to put the book down several times because it was too unbearable!), I must accept that James Levine has done a fabulous job. The writing is beautiful. In spite of the heavy subject matter, Levine’s writing helps you get through the book easily. It is not distracting and lets you immerse yourself in a world that you wish didn’t exist.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is most definitely not an enjoyable read but it’ll definitely help you become more “aware” and I can assure you, you’ll be a changed person when you are done with this book.


Jenny said...

I've heard this is a great book but also that others have had a hard time reading it.

I work as a forensic interviewer for victims of sexual abuse (and physical) and it's crazy the stuff I'm told. But maybe that will help me a little when I read this?

Lezlie said...

This book is at the top of my list once I finish all my challenge books!!


bermudaonion said...

I hope to read this book soon and I feel sure I will sob through most of it. I just don't understand how human beings can treat each other so badly.

Amanda said...

Woah. If Lolita is chic-lit in comparison, I'm not sure I could handle this. Dont' get me wrong - I loved Lolita - but I'm not sure anything MORE would be better for me.

Serena said...

I've seen some excellent reviews of this "tough-to-take" book. Its something I would definitely have to be in the right frame of mind for...I guess I would have to fortify myself.

Literate Housewife said...

After Batuk was left by her father at the brothel and I read about her initiation, I almost gave the book up entirely. It was so painful and so difficult to read. I'm glad I finished it - but in the same way I'm glad I saw Saving Private Ryan.

Great review!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

This book was tough to read, but it was beautifully written.

Ramya said...

@jenny - your job profile sounds really interesting! Guess this book won't horrify you as much then!
@lezlie - it is not a fun read.. but you might like it!
@bermudaonion - tell me about it. The worst is that these are children - some are not even teenagers! It is just plain cruel!
@amanda - i know how you feel. I thought Lolita was tough to read and then i started this book and there was absolutely no comic relief!
@serena - yep.. you definitely need to be prepared. But i think it's worth that time. It is an eye opener.
@literatehousewife - there were so many parts where I'd stop and decide never to go back to the book. But somehow, i kept picking it up again and completing it.

Ramya said...

@melissa - you read it too? I need to stop by and see your review of it.

Veens said...

Sounds so darn difficult. I read The Road of lost innocence which was on the dame subj.but was based om another country altogether
I m sure I want to read this one.

Diane said...

I really loved this book, even though the subject matter was painful. Great review.

S. Krishna said...

Ramya - I 100% agree with your review. This book was so hard to read, but Levine's beautiful writing made it a little easier.

Jo-Jo said...

I know this is a difficult subject but it is one that has definitely caught my attention. Thanks for the thorough review Ramya.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

The beautiful writing didn't help me through it! I felt emotionally battered for days after reading it, but I would still say it's an important book that needs to be read!

Anna said...

This book is waiting patiently on my shelf. Since I have a 9 year old daughter, I just know I'm going to have a hard time reading this one.

Diary of an Eccentric

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the review--I've been wanting the read this book.