Ordinarily, a reader might not be inclined to pick up a novel about the miserable life of a prostitute. But this compelling account of a nine-year-old girl sold (by her own father) into sex slavery in India is an emotional powerhouse. James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, is the gifted author.

During a research trip to Mumbai, Levine was walking down the infamous “Street of Cages” when he noticed a young girl writing in a notebook. Stopping to chat, he discovered she was writing about her frightening life as a sex slave. He felt moved to write a novel based on her life and the dark global problem she not only lives, but symbolizes.With The Blue Notebook, Levine introduces Batuk, a young girl who learned to read at age seven while recovering from tuberculosis at a missionary medical clinic in rural India. Later she is forced into prostitution, subjected to violent beatings and frequent rape.

While Batuk’s story is graphic, it is beautifully designed to establish instant rapport between the reader and the intellectually gifted girl who ages from nine to 15 in the book.

Levine writes from inside the mind of Batuk—a compelling character herself—and deepens the complexity of his narrative as Batuk invents entertaining, symbolic stories about fictional characters to sustain her spirit. When Batuk is sold to a wealthy man as a plaything for his psychotic son, her creative gifts help protect her. Like the girl Levine met in Mumbai, Batuk clings to writing as salvation, a practice that provides temporary escape from her grim reality.

Readers will come to care deeply for Batuk, a delightful, witty young girl bravely bearing her unspeakable burdens. And they will hope desperately that Batuk will be rescued from her life’s depravity.

As for the talented Levine, he has made a forceful literary debut that will compete with the time he devotes to medicine. It isn’t often that a scientist is also a writer who grips the hearts and minds of his readers.

Dennis Lythgoe is a writer who has lived in Boston and Salt Lake City.

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