The Blue Notebook by James Levine

Title: The Blue Notebook
Author: James Levine
Genre: Fiction
Source: Personal library
Set in: Mumbai (India)
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (July 6, 2010)
Rating: 2 out of 5

My thoughts:
By now I guess everyone must have heard or read about this book. It’s a story of Batuk from rural India who was sold into sex slavery by her father when she was just 9 years old. The Blue Notebook chronicles her life as a prostitute in Mumbai.

I almost feel bad saying I did not like this book. I found it too dramatic at times. When writing about a topic like this dramatization is something that is least expected. Although it can be explained by saying that Batuk was very melodramatic and it reflects in her writing, there comes a point when it becomes too much. That could be because all the books I’ve read on this topic have been non-fiction and most of time very straightforward. I found it irritating that she referred to ‘sex’ as ‘sweet cake’ for about a million times in the book. Also the depth of her writing is a little too mature for a young girl.

I just felt that as a fictional character Batuk went through all those atrocities for nothing. What was the point of describing all those rape scenes in endless detail? As if the word ‘Rape’ in itself is less disgusting.

The problem about fictional books on harrowing topics like child prostitution is – where do you draw the line? When a fictional book is set in an actual city like Mumbai, there comes a time when you start questioning whether these things actually happen. I felt there were a few details added to make the book more sad, which it already was. Child prostitution is a very important issue where lives of thousands of children are ruined everyday. But I did question a couple of things in the book, like the descriptions of what happened in the Orphanages. I know that a few orphanages are used for prostitution but I find it hard to believe the things described here. When my thinking tilted towards towards ‘Not possible‘ instead of ‘Maybe‘, that’s when I started loosing interest in the book.

The writing was brilliant but at times I felt it was too lame, like the author was trying too hard. All I want to say is that if you want to read about things like child prostitution and be aware of what is happening in the world, it’s much better to read non-fiction books and there are non-fiction books that read like fiction. (case in point-The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam)

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14 thoughts on “The Blue Notebook by James Levine

  1. Oh no! I have seen a lot of wonderful reviews for this one and almost been tempted to read it. Sorry to hear you found it a bit lame 😦

    • Jackie: A lot of people have loved this book but it wasn’t for me. I would encourage you to give it a try though. Since I know you don’t read a lot of non-fiction you might like this book more than I did.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful review. I received this book unexpectedly awhile back and I’ve put off reading it because it sounds too heavy. I do like fiction books that tackle true events, but I agree it’s usually best to read non-fiction if you want to know what really happened.

    • I don’t mind reading fiction books about real issues too, but I didn’t feel as if this book tackled anything. It was just her life story which according to me served no purpose. I wasn’t even entertained by it although it seems like a wrong word to use in this context.

      I hope you like the book more than I did. I will look forward to your review.

  3. I do like your review, although this is the type of book I would stay away from because I DON’T really enjoy reading about child prostitution–and if I wanted to I’d read a non-fic book.

  4. I’m sorry this book didn’t work for you. I almost picked up the book after reading all the rave reviews on it. I agree with Anna that it’s best to read non-fiction for issues such as this.

  5. I think you ask a lot of valid questions here, Violet. I don’t want sexual violence to be swept under the rug and kept out of fiction or non-fiction, but when things get too graphic I always get the vibe that the author is being a bit exploitative and voyeuristic, which really puts me off.

  6. That’s a great review, Violet, because I’m glad you weren’t afraid to say you didn’t like it. That’s the problem with subjects like this – Unless dealt with carefully, they can either seem way too exaggerated, exploitative, or just plain ridiculous!

  7. Sorry this one didn’t work for you. Personally I found it excellent, but I can see where you’re coming from too. I always think books like this one are important, but I agree that they aren’t always done well.

  8. What a great review! I’m always hesitant when it comes to books that have such difficult subjects as fiction – I much prefer to read memoirs, because I usually have more faith that the events described aren’t added just for dramatic effect – most of the time, anyway. I’m guessing I would maybe have similar issues with this one. I’ll keep it on my wish list, but at least I know to lower my expectations a little!

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