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Shantaram: A Novel
 
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Shantaram: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Gregory David Roberts
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,568 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Crime and punishment, passion and loyalty, betrayal and redemption are only a few of the ingredients in Shantaram, a massive, over-the-top, mostly autobiographical novel. Shantaram is the name given Mr. Lindsay, or Linbaba, the larger-than-life hero. It means "man of God's peace," which is what the Indian people know of Lin. What they do not know is that prior to his arrival in Bombay he escaped from an Australian prison where he had begun serving a 19-year sentence. He served two years and leaped over the wall. He was imprisoned for a string of armed robberies peformed to support his heroin addiction, which started when his marriage fell apart and he lost custody of his daughter. All of that is enough for several lifetimes, but for Greg Roberts, that's only the beginning.

He arrives in Bombay with little money, an assumed name, false papers, an untellable past, and no plans for the future. Fortunately, he meets Prabaker right away, a sweet, smiling man who is a street guide. He takes to Lin immediately, eventually introducing him to his home village, where they end up living for six months. When they return to Bombay, they take up residence in a sprawling illegal slum of 25,000 people and Linbaba becomes the resident "doctor." With a prison knowledge of first aid and whatever medicines he can cadge from doing trades with the local Mafia, he sets up a practice and is regarded as heaven-sent by these poor people who have nothing but illness, rat bites, dysentery, and anemia. He also meets Karla, an enigmatic Swiss-American woman, with whom he falls in love. Theirs is a complicated relationship, and Karla’s connections are murky from the outset.

Roberts is not reluctant to wax poetic; in fact, some of his prose is downright embarrassing. Throughought the novel, however, all 944 pages of it, every single sentence rings true. He is a tough guy with a tender heart, one capable of what is judged criminal behavior, but a basically decent, intelligent man who would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially anyone he knew. He is a magnet for trouble, a soldier of fortune, a picaresque hero: the rascal who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. His story is irresistible. Stay tuned for the prequel and the sequel. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

At the start of this massive, thrillingly undomesticated potboiler, a young Australian man bearing a false New Zealand passport that gives his name as "Lindsay" flies to Bombay some time in the early '80s. On his first day there, Lindsay meets the two people who will largely influence his fate in the city. One is a young tour guide, Prabaker, whose gifts include a large smile and an unstoppably joyful heart. Through Prabaker, Lindsay learns Marathi (a language not often spoken by gora, or foreigners), gets to know village India and settles, for a time, in a vast shantytown, operating an illicit free clinic. The second person he meets is Karla, a beautiful Swiss-American woman with sea-green eyes and a circle of expatriate friends. Lin's love for Karla—and her mysterious inability to love in return—gives the book its central tension. "Linbaba's" life in the slum abruptly ends when he is arrested without charge and thrown into the hell of Arthur Road Prison. Upon his release, he moves from the slum and begins laundering money and forging passports for one of the heads of the Bombay mafia, guru/sage Abdel Khader Khan. Eventually, he follows Khader as an improbable guerrilla in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. There he learns about Karla's connection to Khader and discovers who set him up for arrest. Roberts, who wrote the first drafts of the novel in prison, has poured everything he knows into this book and it shows. It has a heartfelt, cinemascope feel. If there are occasional passages that would make the very angels of purple prose weep, there are also images, plots, characters, philosophical dialogues and mysteries that more than compensate for the novel's flaws. A sensational read, it might well reproduce its bestselling success in Australia here.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A thousand pages is like a thousand pounds--it sounds like too much to deal with. Nevertheless, Roberts' very long novel sails along at an amazingly fast clip. Readers in the author's native Australia apparently finished every page of it, for they handed it considerable praise. Now U.S. readers can enjoy this rich saga based on Roberts' own life: escape from a prison in Australia and a subsequent flight to Bombay, which is exactly what happens to Lindsay, the main character in the novel; once in Bombay, he joins the city's underground. Roberts graphically, even beautifully, evokes that milieu--he is as effective at imparting impressions as any good travel writer--in this complex but cohesive story about freedom and the lack of it, about survival, spiritual meaning, love, and sex; in other words, about life in what has to be one of the most fascinating cities in the world. One's first impression of this novel is that it is simply a good story, but one soon comes to realize that Roberts is also a gifted creator of characters--not only Lindsay but also Prabaker, who becomes Lindsay's guide, caretaker, and entree into various elements of Bombay society. Soon, too, one becomes aware and appreciative of Roberts' felicitous writing style. In all, despite the novel's length, it is difficult not to be ensnared by it. And, be forewarned, it will be popular. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Shantaram is a novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty. If someone asked me what the book was about, I would have to say everything, every thing in the world. Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria, what Melville did for the South Seas, and what Thoreau did for Walden Pond: He makes it an eternal player in the literature of the world."
- Pat Conroy

"Shantaram has provided me with the richest reading experience to date and I don't expect anybody to unseat its all-round performance for a long time. It is seductive, powerful, complex, and blessed with a perfect voice. Like a voodoo ghost snatcher, Gregory David Roberts has captured the spirits of the likes of Henri Charrière, Rohinton Mistry, Tom Wolfe, and Mario Vargas Llosa, fused them with his own unique magic, and built the most gripping monument in print. The land of the god Ganesh has unchained the elephant, and with the monster running amok, I tremble for the brave soul dreaming of writing a novel about India. Gregory David Roberts is a suitable giant, a dazzling guru, and a genius in full."
- Moses Isegawa, author of Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit

"Shantaram is, quite simply, the 1001 Arabian Nights of the new century. Anyone who loves to read has been looking for this book all their reading life. Anyone who walks away from Shantaram untouched is either heartless or dead or both. I haven't had such a wonderful time in years."
- Jonathan Carroll, author of White Apples

"Shantaram is dazzling. More importantly, it offers a lesson...that those we incarcerate are human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity. Some of them, after all, may be exceptional. Some may even possess genius."
- Ayelet Waldman, author of Murder Plays House

Review

'A masterpiece ... sure to be a bestseller around the world' The Age 'Sometimes a book leaves you stunned. This is such a book ... An unputdownable page turner by a master storyteller' Weekly Times 'A huge book, always entertaining, yet reflective and intelligent' The Bulletin 'An enthralling yarn ... the first page of his book has got to be one of the most explosively best ever' Sunday Telegraph (Aus)

About the Author

GREGORY DAVID ROBERTS was born in Melbourne, Australia. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison for armed robbery, he escaped and spent ten of his fugitive years in Bombay, where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers and worked as a street soldier for the Bombay mafia. Recaptured, he served out his sentence and established a successful multimedia company upon his release. He is now a full-time writer and lives in Bombay.

From The Washington Post

The Australian father turned heroin addict turned escaped convict who narrates this sprawling, intelligent novel gets several new names from the people he meets in India, where he goes to hide from the law. One of them is Shantaram, which means "man of peace" or "man of God's peace." The irony does not escape Lin, a man of many secrets who is willing to kill to protect those secrets. Yet he finds hope in his christening as well. "I don't know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow," Lin says. "Whatever the case, . . . the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments."

Shantaram, a blatantly autobiographical first novel by Gregory David Roberts, an Australian author who himself fled to India after escaping from prison, sets out to tell the story of Lin's transformation from desperate, bitter man on the run to, if not a man of peace, then a man of understanding, a man at peace with his life and the mistakes he has made.

The book, told in 933 readable pages, follows him from a remote Indian village in monsoon season to the Afghan mountains in winter, but mostly it takes place in Bombay: in a slum where he founds a medical clinic, in a prison where he is beaten and tortured, in meetings of a branch of the India mafia led by Abdel Khader Khan, an Afghan who becomes a father figure and employer for the fugitive.

The book is full of vibrant characters: Prabaker, the Indian with the winning smile who is Lin's first guide to the city; Karla, a Swiss woman also fleeing a troubled past, with whom Lin becomes infatuated. But Bombay itself is Shantaram's strongest personality. Lin's love of the mafia don and the green-eyed Karla feels suspect to me, but his -- and Roberts's -- love of India and the people who live there is unmistakable and a joy to read about.

Roberts's writing is never understated. He sounds sometimes like Raymond Chandler, with that noir mix of toughness, sentiment and bravado. This style threatens to tip over into the overwrought, and sometimes it does. The sections about Karla and romantic love are the weakest in the book. He describes a kiss in this way: "Our lips met like waves that crest and merge the whirl of storming seas." Are you sure?

But the exuberance of his prose is refreshing in this age of finely crafted fiction, and the insight he shows into men's weaker and stronger traits can be moving. The novel's prison sections are riveting and convincing; when Roberts writes about what it feels like to be knifed, I believe him. And then Prabaker shows up before his wedding night, worried that as a "short and small" man, he won't be a good lover. Lin tells him "that love makes men big, and hate makes them small. I told him that my little friend was one of the biggest men I ever met because there wasn't any hate in him. I said that the better I knew him, the bigger he got." I don't mind a dose of sentimentality if the sentiment it reflects feels true.

The novel loses its drive when Lin leaves India to fight in "Khader's war," as the Afghan attempts to deliver weapons and other aid to the insurgency against the Soviets in the late 1980s. Here, Roberts ties up the various strands of this story, revealing the invisible net that has connected all of Lin's experiences, from the slum to Karla to his work for Khader. But his tying-up seems more important to the plot than it does to the novel, and the book lags in these pages.

Lin's transformation, which gives the novel its name, is problematic as well. Toward the end, he offers a well-paying job in Khader's illegal enterprise to two friends from the slum. "I'd never anticipated the saddened and offended expressions that closed their smiles," Roberts writes. "Was I so far out of touch with the thoughts and feelings of decent men?" Yes, but he doesn't seem to catch on. It's hard to believe the character who displays so much wisdom is still working for the mafia at the end, going off to fight another part of Khader's war, after an alleged realization that the violent struggle for power is always wrong.

Despite this failing, Shantaram displays an intelligence about human nature and a warmth for the human race that continue to be alluring long after the plot loses steam. Early on Lin talks about a peculiar Indian custom that he calls "amiable abduction." "For months, in the slum, I'd succumbed to the vague and mysterious invitations of friends to accompany them to unspecified places, for unknown purposes. You come, people said with smiling urgency, never feeling the need to tell me where we were going, or why. You come now!" Shantaram itself is an amiable abduction. Roberts brings us through Bombay's slums and opium houses, its prostitution dens and ex-pat bars, saying, You come now. And we follow.

Reviewed by Carole Burns
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

From AudioFile

While SHANTARAM is a novel, it echoes the true story of author Gregory David Roberts, who hid in Bombay after escaping from an Australian prison. The story of Lin, who opens a clinic in the slums and becomes involved with the Bombay mafia while building friendships and alliances, is mesmerizing, especially with the narration of Humphrey Bower. Bower weaves a world of interesting characters, both Indian and expatriates, and makes even the exaggerated moments believable. He keeps pace beautifully with Roberts's writing style, which shifts continually from the descriptive and philosophical to the tragic to the broadly comic. Bower makes this unique milieu into one that's fascinating and compelling. J.A.S. © AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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