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The Blue Notebook: A Novel, by James A. Levine

The Blue Notebook
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No child should have to endure what Batuk, a 15-year-old girl in Mumbai, experiences every day. Not only does she survive years of torture, abuse and degradation, but she manages to find beauty in the world and the people around her. Sold into prostitution by her father at nine years old, Batuk has no idea what her "uncles", the men bidding for her virginity are expecting of her when she's paraded before them. Although, at first pleased with the fancy clothes and sweets she's given, she soon learns that her life will be one of abuse, degradation and extreme poverty. In order to survive her reality as a prostitute, she invents a fantasy world in which she calls her customers "bakers" with whom she is paid to make "sweetcakes". Batuk and her fellow child sex slaves are housed in cages alongside the Mumbai slum streets, but she imagines herself to be living in a beautifully decorated room. Puneet, a young boy who's imprisoned in the adjoining cage has also been raped and sold into sexual slavery, and he becomes her only trusted friend. Made to service as many as ten men a day, Batuk and Puneet find themselves the victims of the basest and most vile forms of abuse, but they remain hopeful. A major aspect of Batuk's coping mechanism is the writing she does in a hidden notebook, creating stories of a beautiful world she'll never know.

Dr. James Levine, the author of this disturbing tale of child rape, based the character of his heroine on actual children he observed while doing medical research in India. He is donating 100% of the U.S. proceeds from this book to helping missing and exploited children. As horrific as the acts described in this book are, the story itself is hauntingly beautiful. Batuk's ability to find joy and loveliness in her squalid surroundings, and her refusal to surrender to bitterness and despair make listening to the book an uplifting experience. Told in the first person, from Batuk's point of view, Meera Simhan's narration is inspired and brilliant. Her ability to give voice not only to the innocent and then more knowing Batuk, but also to all the assorted predators she encounters, is masterful. She sweeps the reader from the rustic Indian countryside to the streets and suites of Mumbai with her effective use of dialects and accents.

This is one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read. Although the exploitation and rape of children is described in graphic detail, it's actually a positive and moving book. The message in this book is one that should be heard by everyone, but the images are too vivid for all but the most mature junior high or high school students. As horrible as the explicit images of Batuk's existence are, the optimism in her will to survive is powerfully inspirational. Through her writing of mythical beings and events she is able to transport herself to an imagined world where children live without fear and suffering, and through his writing of this poignant story, Levine reminds us that not all children live in that perfect world. This book is highly recommended for exquisite prose and its heartrending call for global social awareness.

Ruth Mormon

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