I devoured this book. Or rather the book devoured me. It climbed into my head. The people and the places took over my soul. The characters became my dearest friends. This novel served as a palpable source of inspiration; fueling my yearing to travel, igniting my desire to write. Although I do fear that if I were to travel to India my experience would not match up to what is chronicled by Gregory David Roberts. This novel demanded my attention when I first saw it in the book store: the red and orange cover, the sheer size of it and The Times describing it as “A Literary Masterpice”. I could not agree more. Finding a book of such substance in a world demanding instant gratification and where visuals are an easier form of entertainment or pleasure than the written word is gratifying to say the least. The time spent reading it will not be time spent in waste.
Shantaram is a fictionalised account of the author’s own life. A life during which he is exposed to much more than most of us will ever imagine: he escapes an Australian prison after being arrested for “armed” robbery (he used a toy gun) to feed his all-encompassing heroin addiction, losing his wife and daughter in the process, to escape to Bombay in India where he spends a decade of his life living and working in a slum.
As he steps off the plane in India he meets Prabaker who becomes his taxi-driver, tour-guide and irreplaceable friend. It is impossible to not fall in love with the character of Prabaker; “I have never known a man who had less hostility in him than Prabaker Kharre”. Linbaba is the name given to him by this wonderful character and this name becomes completely integral to his character; “The role I played under that name, and the character I became - Linbaba – was more real, and true to my nature, than anyone or anything that I ever was before it.”
When he first arrived in India he is “unnerved by the density of purposes” but by the end of he book he is Indian because “[he] smiled, and smiling was easy” – he earns the people of India’s respect by opening a clinic in the slums where he lives, offering his services free of charge and learning their language. He becomes immersed in their beautiful and simple way of life.
He finds a father figure (any person who grows up without one will, consciously or not, spend their lives looking for a replacement) in Khader-Khan, the head of the Mafia; and of course, falls in love with an enigmatic Swiss woman named Karla.
What I especially love about this book are the acute observations made on politics, people, psychology, metaphysics, religion and love. Everything that appeals to my wondering mind is covered in this novel.
I have only taken extracts from “Part One” of this extraordinary novel: go read it and the other four parts, if you have not yet done so, and find out exactly how Shantaram escaped from prison, how he lived and thrived in the slums, his love for Karla and people in general, about his arrest and torture in an Indian prison, his work as a counterfeiter and smuggler within a great criminal empire, his role as a Bollywood agent and how he was given a second name – the Marathi name Shantaram meaning “man of peace” – whilst fighting for Khader in the war in Afghanistan…amongst other things. This book is one phenomenal adventure.
I would love to start a conversation: a virtual book club if you will so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.Hover mouse over images to reveal caption and click on them to view larger versions.