June 18, 2009

The Blue Notebook, James Levine

“You can never fully straighten bent metal; you can only make it less bent.”

Sometimes when I read a book that is particularly affecting, I refer to it as “life altering.” But when I refer to The Blue Notebook as life altering, it isn’t to remark of its genius rendition, sumptuous prose, or eerily strong characterization. Simply put; The Blue Notebook by James Levine so thoroughly disturbed me, it left me haunted. I think we all know that the sickening practice of child sex slavery occurs, and we are justifiably disgusted. But only when confronted with the voice of a fifteen year old prostitute as she describes her tragic and hopeless world does one realize this is a global problem that we shouldn’t ignore.

Levine’s purpose is to raise awareness and funds to stop child exploitation. And his method is the tortuous bombardment of atrocities that are committed against his narrator and other children. Batuk was sold into slavery by her impoverished family at nine. She is quickly “taken” after which she ends up in a cage no larger than a toilet servicing around ten men a day. Her life is colored by sadism, rape, violence, starvation, and disease. She is betrayed in some form by everyone who can use her to some purpose to further their greed or perversion. Abused in everyway imaginable, Batuk considers herself blessed because she can read and write. And so Batuk journals, and uses every opportunity to scratch out her story and observations. “I am not sure why I write but in my mind I shudder that it may be so that one day I can look back and read how I have melted into my ink and become nothing.” These are her hopes to die, disappear, service only one man, or become deranged. It will suffice to say this is not an uplifting tale.

Levine is relentless with horrific details, and increasingly terrible situations in which he places Batuk. His only gift to the reader is that his story is relatively brief. The ending is ambiguous, after reading it several times; I’m still not sure what happened. Such a bizarre ending and menacing tone recalls Burnside’s The Glister. The Blue Notebook is an ugly story, but even if the writing was poor (instead it is excellent), I’d recommend this book. If you can manage to read it, do so, and if you can’t, buy it regardless. Levine’s passion is exceedingly obvious, so much so that he’s donating his proceeds to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children—the only bright spot his novel offers.

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1 comment:

  1. These kinds of books are eye-opening, but so hard to swallow.


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