While reading James Levine's debut novel, The Blue Notebook (Spiegel & Grau), one would be forgiven for wondering how Levine, a British-born doctor and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, could write about a 15-year-old prostitute on the streets of India. As it turns out, Levine can imagine it because he's seen it firsthand. The impetus for the novel came when the doctor was touring Mumbai slums with a U.N. official, visiting an area called the "Street of Cages" where child prostitutes are, as the name suggests, kept in cages. Levine was moved deeply upon seeing one of the children writing in a journal during her free time, and from this his book sprang forth. The novel takes the form of that journal, a first-person tale of the frightening, unsanitary, and despicable life the main character, Batuk, and her fellow children lead. Levine's research and direct knowledge of the inner workings of child prostitution comes through in tender-yet-informed prose that takes on the issue deftly. The Blue Notebook is obviously not a way for Levine to make a quick buck off a tragic situation in Mumbai, but a means for him to place an issue he cares about in the spotlight. The back cover of the book notes that all of Levine's U.S. royalties will be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Wed., July 29, 7:30 p.m., 2009
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