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Shantaram: A Novel Paperback – September 29, 2005
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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 Karlas 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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2) Characters (3 stars) - There's Lin, the protagonist tough guy with a heart of gold. I was impressed by his courage and gumption, but I just didn't get deep enough in his self-doubt to feel a lot of sympathy for him. And there's also Lin's supporting cast. His smiling Indian side kick, the band of misfit expats, the dangerous and wise mafia. I was intrigued by them all, but didn't feel like I knew any especially well.
3) Theme (3 stars) - I'm not really sure what the moral was. There were plenty of minor philosophies bandied about in bar room and ghetto conversations, but I'm not sure what they all added up to.
4) Voice (3 stars) - Roberts really cares about his subject matter and his friends--which is admirable--but at times it all seemed a bit melodramatic and un-nuanced. Much like the hulking physique of the main character, the descriptions seemed to be hammered onto the page, blunt and jarring, as opposed to deftly and precisely.
5) Setting (5 stars) - Now this is why I kept reading. If you have any desire to learn about the ghettos of Bombay, expat lifestyles, 3rd world prisons, drug running, passport trading, or jihad fighting then read this book. Apparently the author lived in this world, and what a fascinating world it is. In the end, the Bombay underworld seemed to be the point of the book--more than the hero's goal, or hero's growth, or hero's moral--and in this area Roberts succeeds mightily.
6) Overall (4 stars) - I vacillated between 3 stars and 4 stars when I read this book. In the end, I gave it a 4 because Shantaram is a great story, it's just not told especially well. Still, I'd recommend it.
the characters are extremely colorful and the Indian landscape is painted in amazingly funny detail.
Aahhh, India. What a broad tapestry to paint on.
All the stories are here
My friends loaned me this book and later because I was traveling to the Southern Hemisphere from the other end of the earth I downloaded it to kindle. However I stand by what I said in my poem "The Book" ( published in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers volume III ) "... no cover art to gaze upon"
meaning especially for me there were no photos of this man's, this writer's face anywhere in the kindle version and I needed to look at his face while I was reading his book.
I look forward to Gregory David Roberts' next book.
One of the things I loved most about this book is that it gave such an insight in to a side of India that I will probably never see personally, and to be honest, one I never really ever thought I wanted to see. It shows the extremes of the city from the unwavering love and loyalty of the Indian people, to the depth of the corruption and power that ultimately runs the city, as well as showing what life in the slum would be like compared to the rich who live there. If I ever did go to India one day I would be going with my eyes slightly more open to my surroundings than they were previously.
The characters were complex and vivid and even the most despicable characters displayed some endearing quality. There were some pretty gruesome parts to this story (at some sections I actually covered by eyes and felt like screaming out!) but for most of the book the characters were smart and lyrical and I enjoyed reading their witty dialogue. Towards the end of the book when the new mafia was coming in to rule, I found the new characters not as agreeable, so am glad he ended the book where he did. Apparently there is a sequel coming but I would hesitate to read it as I had such a good experience with the first book, I would hate for the second one to not live up to the standard and ruin it for me.
I was a little thrown with the trip to Afghanistan but also enjoyed reading about another culture that is so foreign to me.
It was a long read but one I definitely recommend - definitely the most confronting yet amazing book I have ever read and I would be lucky to find another book I enjoyed as much as this in the next 5-10 years.
Most recent customer reviews
What a crazy, fascinating life!
Definitely one for the book bucket list.