Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: The Blue Notebook

This is a deeply sad book, and an engrossing book too. The story of a child prostitute in Mumbai, Bartuk was sold into slavery by her father, and taken from her family's countryside home to Mumbai's red light district. On the 'Common Street' that becomes Bartuk's home, the children are kept in cages barely large enough for movement. They are given barely enough food to sustain life. Most horrifically, they are expected to have sex with a dozen or so men every night. It is difficult to overstate the horrors of the Common Street, and Bartuk escapes the horrors of her life by writing in her diary, a blue notebook she must keep hidden. It would be easy to become engrossed in this book merely because of the shock value. Certainly the conditions are horrific, more so because Bartuk and her friends are composite characters based on children Levine met during travels in Mumbai. But there is more literary merit to this novel than just shock, and Levine has produced a compelling protagonist and engaging plot. Bartuk's writing and quick mind sometimes disguise her youth, but the reader is constantly reminded of her age by the series of euphemisms she has developed to refer to anatomy and sexual activity. The reader is intimately aware of the precariousness of Bartuk's situation, and one in which the reader is given no definitive ending. This seems appropriate, as Bartuk's life is so precarious, so too is her fate. This novel is not just a work of literature, it is also a call to action. Bartuk is only one of many, and the author makes clear his intention to donate proceeds to children's charities. Levine has crafted a moving and unforgettable character; her story is one that will not easily be forgotten.

James Levine, The Blue Notebook (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) ISBN: 038552871X

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