The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

The Blue Notebook by James A. LevineTitle:  The Blue Notebook

Author:  James A. Levine

Paperback: 210 pages (ARC)

Published:  2009

ISBN:  9780385528719

Acquired:  won through LibraryThing’s ER March 2009 batch

Challenges:  The ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010, POC Reading Challenge

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine is a fictional novel told from the point of view of Batuk Ramasdeen, a 15-year-old prostitute living in a closet-sized “nest”, as she calls it.  It is written like a journal or diary and gives a graphic glimpse of the life of a child sex slave.  While it’s called “The Blue Notebook”, it is written in three separate collections of pages, the first being contained in the blue notebook for which the book is named, while the other two sections were written on hotel paper then later plain paper.  The reason I mention this is because, in a lot of ways, this book felt like two separate and distinct stories, falling in these different segments.

The first part, the part written in the blue notebook, was inspired by Levine’s experiences when he traveled to Mumbai as part of a research trip for his work at the Mayo Clinic.  While there, he interviewed several street kids on the infamous Street of Cages, when he noticed a child prostitute writing in a notebook.  He talked with her for a long time and her story and what he saw there stuck with him and led him to writing this book in hopes of shining a light on the tragic events occurring to such young children, stealing their childhoods, their souls, and often their very lives.

“The Blue Notebook” section is hauntingly real and fairly true to the character of Batuk as a young girl who was sold into prostitution by her own father at the age of 9.  Now 15, Batuk is an adult woman, aware of her sexual allure, one second, then a playful, giggling, daydreaming child the next, writing stories and telling jokes to cheer up her friend.  She tells us from the beginning that she is prone to waxing dramatic, and, at times, her writing has a poetic beauty to it, with metaphors and stunning word pictures.  It does have some amount of stream of conciousness to it, as she may be talking about having sex with the men in one sentence and then write about some event back home before being brought to Mumbai in the next.

Batuk is unusual for a child of the streets, and even unusual for the men that she services, in that she can read and write.  She tells of having TB and spending 12 weeks in a missionary hospital where she had had the privilege of a tutor three times a week and was even sent away with a goodbye gift of a box full of books for her to keep.  As soon as they’re home, she has her father close his eyes as she reads a story to her father and then waits for his reaction.

Father did not say a word until I finished.  As I concluded the story, I peeked under his hat; his eyes were shiny and tears were streaming down his face.  He just stared at me.  “Father, there are happier stories, let me…”  “Batuk, that is not why I am crying.  I never imagined that any child of mine would ever learn to read… this is your ticket out of Dreepah-Jil.”  He caught his thoughts and continued to speak excitedly.  “We will have to find you a teacher… One day you will be a… doctor, a lawyer.”  I interrupted, “Or a teacher.”  “Yes, darling, or a great teacher, Batuk.  Come to me.”  I went to my father with another book tucked under my arm, the magical abhang poems of Namdev.  As I read words I barely understood and soaked them within me, my father held me.  That night we both created dreams for me.  Neither he nor I ever aspired to my becoming a prostitute.(embolden added)

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine, page 82 (ARC)

While “The Blue Notebook” section is stark and unvarnished glimpse into the lives of the street children, most all-too-short lives, at that, the remainder of the book is crap, to be honest.  I could really feel the children who had inspired Levine in the first segment, but in the second half of the book, it all felt sleazy.  It felt like I was reading snuff kiddie porn.  I’m not giving anything away, I don’t think, in telling you Batuk dies.  I knew it within the first 20 pages that it would not end well, and at the end of The Blue Notebook, there is blatant foreshadowing, and you know by then, if you didn’t already, that she was going to die a cruel and violent death.  So did she, sadly, and she was powerless to act on that prescience, because after six years of conditioning, it never occurred to her to run.

I understand what Levine was trying to do with The Blue Notebook, and I think it commendable, and according to the back of the book, all the profits from the book is being donated to organizations that help missing and exploited children, so the fact that Levine didn’t write this book for the money touches my heart.  This fact also makes me feel bad to give a frank and honest review, but the truth is, the second half of the book feels like a gorean child molesters erotica book.  Batuk is raped repeatedly, and basically answers, “Thank you, Master, for the pleasure.”  She’s kicked and beaten and starved, and all that is horrible and fits into where Levine wanted to go with the story, but the way in which it was written felt like a male fantasy. 

IDK, I’m not saying he enjoyed writing it, just that it felt creepy, like when you were a kid, the uncle at the family picnic that hugged you a little too long.  He didn’t do anything wrong, per se, he just hugged you, but it leaves you feeling like you’re crawling with cooties and need a scalding hot shower.  Yeah, the second half of this book is like the creepy uncle.

I’d say that if you’re inspired to buy this book because doing so helps out children, just donate directly to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.  Don’t bother with the book, just donate the $10 straight to the cause.

For all that he wanted to do with this, and for the beautiful sections that the book does contain, I’m going to give The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine 2.5 out of 5 stars.  That represents a balance of what I loved and what I hated, I think.

Other links of interest

The Street of Cages:  In Mumbai the Sparrows — children of prostitutes — are being rescued and given an education, thanks to a remarkable project – A Times Online article also by James A. Levine

Other Reviews:

Lisa at Books On the Brain

Petunia at Educating Petunia

Nicole at Linus’s Blanket

Natasha at Maw Books

Jen at Devourer of Books

Rants and Reads at The Novel World

Rebecca at The Book Lady Blog

Swapna at S.Krishna’s Books (is there a book she hasn’t read?)

Meghan at Medieval Bookworm

Jennifer at The Literate Housewife

Jill at Rhapsody in Books

Laurie at In Laurie’s Mind

At this point, I’m just gonna stop adding links because, apparently, I’m the only person left in the blogosphere to read and review this book.  If you’d like to add you review to the list, link it in your comment 🙂

Advertisements

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title:  The Namesake

Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback:  291 pages

ISBN:  9780618485222

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.  It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.  Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, pages 49-50

My first experience with the Ganguli family happened two years ago when I brought the DVD copy of the movie home from the library.  I thought then that it was a beautiful and rich story, and was excited to find out it was also a book.  After a few months of picking it up and putting it back, I finally bought a paperback of it from Waldenbooks about a year or so ago, but it sat on the shelf since then… calling to me whenever I looked in the general area of the bookshelf where it sat.  And after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, I decided it was time for something a little more lasting and meaningful, so I finally began the journey and story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their children Gogol and Sonia.

When thinking about how to describe The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the word that keeps coming to mind is “quiet”.  Lahiri slowly weaves a beautiful tapestry of the love and living and feelings of being an immigrant family.  The different customs and how the culture of the land in which you live can so overtake you and change you in ways you can’t even realize.  First and foremost, it is a love story:  The love of a man and wife, the love of parents for their children, the love for one’s family, and the love of one’s homeland.  It’s also a story of the journey we all must take of self-acceptance, and, after that, the acceptance of others.  Of course, the “Indian-ness” of it is also beautiful and intriguing.

One of the things I find fascinating from this book is the realization that all people everywhere share the burden of growing up, of culture, and of the hopes and expectations of their parents.  For the majority of us, we caring these burdens among our own people… fellow humans who share similar experiences in this and this helps us not feel so alone.  However, for those who have left their native lands, there can be a constant ache and isolation as they endure the struggles of life without the ability to lean on someone who can understand how they feel.  What’s more, the first generation born in another land are even more isolated, having one foot in the old and new country, they can neither relate to their parents who have no understanding of the way things are in their adopted homeland, nor can they fully relate to their peers who either don’t have any concept of their home life or they find it a curiosity.

Interestingly, after reading this book, it has made me take a second look and given me a deeper respect for Maggie’s dad, who left his own homeland of Vietnam more than ten years ago and has recently become a naturalized US citizen.  Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but rather gained a bit more empathy for him.  It’s also given me another perspective with Maggie, who made a passing comment recently how she sometimes wishes she was either all Vietnamese or all white, as being both sometimes makes her feel outside of either culture.

For it’s quiet beauty and it’s lasting effect, I give The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Something Beyond Greatness by Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine

SBG coverTitle:  Something Beyond Greatness:  Conversations With a Man of Science and a Woman of God

Authors:  Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine

Paperback:  122 pages

ISBN:  9780757307812

Pull up a chair and prepare to be inspired as the Something Beyond Greatness TLC Book Tour pulls in for a stop In the Shadow of Mt. TBR 🙂

First off, I have to say that when I first read about this book, I was expecting something different.  I had understood it to be a book of tales of heroism in the face of danger, stories of people who stood up for what’s right without thought for the consequences, stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi and everyday people.  While it did have a few stories in it, it was more a book about the recipe for such people.

[Great acts have] three elements: (1)seeing with love, (2) acting from the heart, and (3) the mystery of destiny -right place, right time. –page 20

At first, I didn’t think this book was much.  At times it was difficult for me to retain what was being said, which may have to do with the fact it’s been hot and I had walked to the library in the heat to read it there.  But the crazy thing about it is that the info pops out and says boo! now as I’m watching the news, movies, or reading.  There’s this little voice in the back of my mind that analyzes events I encounter through what I’ve read.  AND the whole time reading it, every heroic act I’ve seen or heard or done popped up for application or proof of what I was reading.

The person who will step into greatness must see the others with love, compassion, and concern.  He or she will have a sense of “mine” towards them.  Then he or she must be able to sense or see the way through to help.  Third, this person must have the will to step out and do it.  Usually, this will is recalled by the person afterwards as more of a compulsion, “I just did what anyone else would do.”

Every human being writes a small page in history; every human being -irrespective of how big or how small- writes a small page.  That is real human history. –page 19

My first impulse was to give this book three stars, but after watching it ooze and stew and bubble, I’m thinking it’s much more effective than I first thought and I’m going to give Something Beyond Greatnessby Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine 4 out of 5 stars.

Additional resources for this book are:

*************************************************************************************

And now, because I think this book is very much a worthwhile read… and, because I somehow got a second book 🙂 … We’re gonna have  a giveaway for a new copy!

This giveaway will be open until 11:59 pm, Saturday July 4th, 2009 with the winner to be announced on next week’s Sunday Salon post (July 5th).  Contest is open worldwide 😀 , as long as you’ve got an address for me to slap on the packaging, you’re welcome to enter!

  1. To enter, leave a comment here letting me know you’d like to win a copy.  This will count as your official entry.
  2. Each day this coming week I will be posting something pertaining to the book, one day will be about stories you’ve heard that inspired you, inspirational movies, acts of greatness you yourself have done or witnessed, etc.  When you comment on the daily posts, you’ll earn a bonus entry!
  3. Post this contest on your blog and leave the link here for an extra entry
  4. Tweet about it, make sure to use @koolaidmom so it’ll show up on my TweetDeck, or leave the link of your update, for an aditional bonus entry.
  5. If you do all the above, commenting everyday, blogging it and tweeting, that’ll be 8 entries and I’ll add 2 more as a bonus, giving you 10 chances to win 🙂 (This post is technically a Monday post for June 29th)

Good Luck!