on January 23, 2005
I have, in the last three years, read literally hundreds of books of fiction. I can quite easily list the three bodies of work which were the most enjoyable, instructive, and otherwise influential to me. In order they are: 1) the entire 21 book series of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin historic naval literature (probably the best series of books I have ever read), 2) the three books of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and the System of the World), each book being better than the previous one, and 3) Shantaram.
Shantaram is a love story from start to finish: love of mankind, love of friends, love of a woman, love of a country, love of a city, love of an adversary, love of a way of life, love of a people, love of adventure, love of a father, and, most apparent, love for the reader.
The protagonist (based on the writer himself) is a complex adventurer with a deep soul and a past which, though you and I can never fully appreciate it unless we have done similar things (highly unlikely...few of us have ever been tortured, for example, or kicked a heroin habit twice) is made accessible to us, complete with its feelings and lessons.
The writing is superb, the characters have depth, the setting descriptions place you right there, the plots are intriguing, and the emotions, including humor, I cannot adequately describe, since I have nowhere near the skills of the writer, Gregory Roberts.
I cannot recommend the book more highly. Please do yourself a favor and read it.
on October 22, 2004
Shantaram is one of those books that you wait to find for five years, even a decade. You know how it is. You read a really great book and, on coming to the end page, immediately want to find another book just as good to fill its place. So you go out looking for such a book, but cannot find it. You look for a week, then a month, then months turn to years, and finally,5 to 10 years later, you finally find a book that is a really great read.
Shantaram is such a book. It is an A+ story that captivates you on page one and sustains the pace through every one of its 920 pages. It overflows with a wide range of characters of every moral persuasion, good and bad. And it is rich with the big themes on the nature of humanity and the human struggle to survive and thrive, for better or worse. In addition, the actual writing is superb, descriptive and often beautiful, without ever descending into sentimental or maudlin. Roberts always manages to find the right phrase or word to bring into clear focus the incredible wide range of experiences he paints. I might add, this is one book that I do not want to see as a movie, because there is no way that a mere movie could be a fraction as good as this glorious, three dimensional work.
I'll be lucky if I have to wait only another 5 - 10 years to find another book this good.
on September 14, 2006
It's just not fair. Gregory David Roberts is one of the best writers of our time, and I do not make that statement lightly. I am usually a 350-400 page novel-reader -- I like to get in and get out. But after reading the first paragraph (I dare you to read it and NOT be interested in seeing where he goes), I couldn't stop thinking about it. Actually, I read the first paragraph in Borders, put it down and went home. I simply didn't want to start a 900 page novel. But I couldn't get the passage out of my head the whole night, and returned the next day to purchase it. This book is magical. It reads like the best non-fiction adventure novel (!) ever written. I gave the book to my dad for his birthday and about a month later asked him how it was going. He told me that he had 100 pages left but hadn't read in two weeks because he "didn't want it to end."
Instead of a synopsis of the book, which is available in so many places, I thought I'd tell you my thoughts about the book and how it impacted me and those around me. I hope it helps. I tell everyone about this book and always say the same two things:
1) Don't let the 900 pages scare you.
2) Read the first paragraph. If you aren't interested in that, don't go on. But if that paragraph doesn't inspire you, I have no idea why you read in the first place. You can read the first page here on Amazon.
on March 9, 2008
This is a wonderful story for the first nineteen chapters; after that it changes and it's not nearly as good. The "change" is sudden and unexpected. You will enjoy the first nineteen chapters, the first 400 pages of this 900 page book, and you won't take my advice to stop reading at that point, as I was advised to do. You will read on, as I did, expecting the magic and charm to return, and even when they don't you'll want to tie up all those loose strings.
The first nineteen chapters are a book about India. We read this for my book club, and we were fortunate to have a guest who had grown up in India, to answer our questions about all the strange and fantastic things this white, Australian, ex-con author was telling us. It turns out that what he wrote about Indian ways and culture is true, and our guest even demonstrated the Indian head waggle!
This story offers more than an intimate glimpse at India; it is also a provocative lesson on redemption for all sins, not just the ones that can land you in a jail. It also offers a few lessons on love.
But after chapter nineteen the story is no longer really about India, and the main character, Lin, is no longer a "normal" man in extraordinary circumstances. Lin becomes a kind of superman involved in one cliff-hanging circumstance after another. The story and the characters are no longer endearing; they become larger-than-life cardboard "heroes" in an action movie. The reader no longer learns anything of value about India or the characters. And that's too bad, because it didn't have to go that way; there was enough going in the first 400 pages to carry it every bit as well to 900.
I will mention, too, that Gregory Roberts could write a compelling story about being in prison, if Australian prisons really are as bad as he claims. Perhaps he will.
What a book! What a story! The characters are as real as your hand in front of your face and you'll want to hop on the next airplane to Bombay (Mumbai), India to drop in at Leopold's to chance a glimpse of the old gang.....
This book will rip your heart out, stomp on it, and put it back in your chest all repaired by the ending. It took me a week to read and it was the best week of my life. I cried when it was over and haven't been able to read another book since. Truly an epic masterpiece.
FINALLY, a gut-wrenching, harrowing, well-penned novel, whose author suffers not from the literary constipation of most current "highbrow" authors (He's faced down far more deadly things, chronicled herein, to be affrighted by sharp penned editors.) - A book, in short, that will make your heart bleed with the depths to which the human soul can sink and the glories to which it can rise. ----I read so many books, but this is the first true work of art and genius published in this new century that I've managed to discover. It is a book from which I'm still recovering from having read. Like all great art, it leaves one with a new perspective on the world and causes one to reconnoitre the heart's bearings. The book strips away the lies we tell ourselves and leaves the heartstrings bare for the reader to see, where he/ she will recognise his/her own.
Let's get something straight here: This is not a book of "purple prose" or any form of sentimentality. Each tear shed is wrung from harrowing experience. As Roberts writes, "One of the reasons we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you."--Your soul will have cried with Roberts's many times before the end of the book.
This is truly a book for lovers of great literature. Roberts writes, "I never found a club or a clan or idea that was more important to me than the men and women who believed in it."--This book is one that values the mystery of people and the mystery of human existence above all else. ----Including yours, reader.
on March 24, 2005
You might say I'm in love with this book. I clearly see its shortcomings, but I adore it nevertheless. It's a vast, gorgeous story with memorable characters and a setting so well described that I feel as though I've lived there. Many chapters dance and writhe with more joy and pain than many novels do in their entirety. Yes, that's partly because it's a ridiculous 900 pages long, but it's also because the author is writing from his own life experience and tells the story with palpable passion. That is the book's weakness and also its strength. The author holds nothing back in the telling of the story, so the writing feels unrestrained and is rarely succinct. The author gushes about a lover's lips to the point of embarassment and peppers every page with a distracting number of adjectives and commas. The frequent digressions and philosophical musings feel ponderous as often as they seem enlightening. But the sheer vitality of the story along with the force of the author's joys and sorrows are so convincing that these shortcomings often seem as substantial as dust motes. Perhaps I even love "Shantaram" more because of them.
Final note: If for no other reason, you should read this book in order to meet one of the most endearing characters ever brought to life in a novel--a man by the name of Prabaker.
on August 25, 2006
When was the last time you read an epic? More pertinently, when was the last time you read a contemporary book that you would label an epic? It's been a while for me for sure, a fact that tremendously highlighted the pleasure I derived from this book.
[The focus of this review is going to be only the quality of writing, and the wave of feelings precipitated by this book. There's enough been said about the story, and I really want to share how this book made me feel instead.]
So let's start at the very beginning - the opening sentence of the book: "It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured". And the last line of the first page: "So it begins, this story, like everything else - with a woman, a city, and a little bit of luck." How can one not get hooked to a book which promises to be so artless and almost adolescent in its outlook, combining naiveté with world-weary wisdom as only a few people can at any point in their entire life?
Don't jump to conclusions though - the book is far from being "soft". On the same page, Roberts writes about being "chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed, and starved." And this is where the power of the book lies - it can be simple, and startlingly explosive, all at the same time. In part that's attributable to the roller-coaster life the author lead, but it would be unfair to take credit away from Roberts' writing capabilities. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could easily have been over-the-top trash.
My favourite attribute of the book though, is its vivid delineation of Bombay. The book brought to light aspects of Bombay that most people don't hear about ever, and very few see, but which I had caught glimpses of constantly from the corner of my eyes, and was sure were there. Many a time when I had sat at Leopold's, I had noticed the incongruity of the place and suspected that there was more to it than met the eye. It was impossible to escape the subtle undercurrent of misdemeanors, and this book throws the curtains back and shows explicitly how deep the rabbit hole really went. From Colaba to Dharavi, from high-rises to rat-infested gullies, Roberts' portrait of the city's attitude, its mood, its character, is impeccable. And the smell, the smell - I used to think it I was imagining it, but I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only one.
The greatest achievement of this book, for me, was actually not its vivid description of Bombay, but the fact that it actually made me nostalgic for a city I can't bear to be in. When was the last time a book made you feel like that?
Get this book.
on July 21, 2006
I fell in love with India while reading Shantaram and before I had finished it, I actually booked a flight to Mumbai. What an amazing adventure.....both the book and the trip. I even visited Leopold's! I admire Robert's writing style, the tenderness with which Lin (the main character who is obviously Robert's own inner-voice) describes the people he meets and his evolving relationship with them. Most of all, I liked the spirit with which the book was written. Rather than finding it to be a self-indulgent catharsis as a few reviewers imply, I found it to be a chronicle of self-understanding, enlightenment, redemption, compassion, and hope. He understands life--all of it--and he values people from the heart. I can't wait to read more of his work and to make a return trip to India.
on August 8, 2004
There's no doubt about it - Shantaram is a great read. Roberts weaves personal insight with a tale of high adventure while on the run from the law that is at times profound, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and always a ripping good read. The semi-fictional events in this book are based on the author's true life experiences while on the run from the Australian authorities for a string of armed bank robberies. Roberts flees to Mumbai, India, where he joins the local Bombay mafia, falls in love, smuggles arms and contraband to Afghanistan, sets up a medical clinic, and discoveres his true identity in a sort of middle-life coming-of-age tale. Above all, Shantaram is a great read and can be read as a thriller, a travel adventure, a love story and a philosophical journey; this book had me turning the pages until the early morning hours. Enjoy.