Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Blue Notebook, by James A. Levine

A favorite uncle marked each of my birthdays with a gift book—always exquisitely chosen and remarkably apropos of whatever developmental hurdles I was facing. He once wrote on a fly leaf “Reading maketh a full man…” Long after I had relished and devoured that year’s book (Wind in the Willows…still a favorite), I would revisit the inscription, wracking my young mind to figure out what constitutes fullness, and by what alchemy reading , an admittedly pleasurable but seemingly straightforward pastime, creates fullness.

I eventually discovered the other prongs of Bacon’s life prescription, but neither conference/readiness nor writing/exactness presented the intellectual challenge or metaphysical allure posed by reading /fullness. It became an annual pilgrimage to see how firmly I could conceptualize and articulate the transformative power of literacy. I guess the struggle continues still; whenever I discover a book that nudges me closer to understanding fullness, it makes my list of worthy reads.

The Blue Notebook, by James A. Levine, is the fictional tale of a young Indian girl sold into child prostitution by her weak, debt-ridden father. Batuk is a beautiful clever child-woman with the soul of a writer. She is observant, adaptable and a quick study of human nature. She is equally able to spin a story to unravel what lies at the heart of reality, or to embellish its ragged edges. She recognizes that reading, and its partner writing, bring a power that few possess—a power that is inimical to the miasma of depravity and dehumanization that choke those who occupy society’s lowest rungs. To tap into that power is to open a shaft of light and pure air.

It is a small, stifling world, the outcast streets of Mumbai, unveiled by The Blue Notebook. Glimpsing, even in a short novel, the ways a malleable young mind adapts itself to the unthinkable will shake your sensibilities and seize your breath. But you will acclimate to the odor of hopelessness; you will breathe again. When you witness the quest for literacy as a genuine life-clenching passion, your shaken heart will emerge with greater elasticity. The Blue Notebook may not deliver joy, but it will enlighten and fill the reader.

Happiness is difficult to find, and harder still to hold, but fullness represents capacity and appreciation--properties far more versatile and lasting. Fullness must encompass capturing light and shadow within a single gaze, ink and paper within a single page, reality and possibility within a single existence. Find The Blue Notebook in the VBPL catalog and read it for life.

If you crave more fact-based stories that reveal the power of literacy to cut through chains of gender oppression and poverty, read Push (by Sapphire), the novel that inspired the popular film Precious.

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