Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Author:

Gregory David Roberts (born 21 June 1952) is an Australian author best known for his novel Shantaram. He is a former heroin addict and convicted bank robber who escaped from Pentridge Prison in 1980 and fled to India, where he lived for ten years.

Roberts lived in Melbourne, Germany and France, and finally returned to Mumbai, where he set up charitable foundations to assist the city’s poor with health care coverage. Roberts was reunited with his daughter.

Publication Year: 2003

Review:

‘Shantaram’ is about the life of an escaped Australian convict with the alias ‘Lin’ who comes to India in order to evade his torturous fate in the prison. After landing in Bombay (now Mumbai), he befriends his tour guide Prabhakar and other expatriates who are involved in some minor illegal crimes in the city. As a man on a run, he tries to make sense of his life while he travels across the spiritual city.

On his journey, the events and people around him cause his life to take a wild turn. He embarks on a series of dangerous adventures, whether it be moving to the poorest slum in Bombay, having intellectual conversations with the mafia members and getting involved in illegal activities, working for Bollywood, serving in prison, fighting in someone else’s war, being fascinated with the beautiful and elusive Karla all the while being utterly clueless about his goals.

Eventually, the protagonist Lin learns the most-used languages in Bombay and gets friendly with the people around him. When he goes to a trip in a small Maharashtrian village, a hometown of his friend Prabhakar, he gets acquainted with their lifestyle and starts living with them for a while. He is given the name Shantaram, meaning the man of peace, which resonates with him and seems to signal about his distant fate.

First off, this was such an amazing journey! It’s part autobiographical and part fiction as stated by the author. After finishing the book, I dug into the old interviews and stuff to find out how much of it is fact and fiction. He said that the major events were based on true story while the characters were an amalgamation of different personalities. Anyway, it might be hard to pinpoint the credibility, but one thing I can say for sure is it’s a beautiful and well written story.

“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. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”

The writing is the novel is absolutely mesmerizing and poignant. It captures all the minute intricacies in the gesture, language, values of the Indian culture seen from a foreigner’s perspective. In fact, we see the protagonist experience a little bit of a cultural shock in the beginning and we see how he comes to understand and assimilate it. Also, the descriptions of the city and the events are so vivid and colorful that it captivated me. I absolutely loved reading it.

The characters in the story feel so real and vulnerable. I found them so interesting in their own way, most of them were immigrants with their own reasons for seeking asylum elsewhere. It takes place over a huge expanse of the Bombay where we get to know about a lot of people in the slum and also the gangsters in the mafia. I loved the protagonist’s interactions with the mafia council especially the boss. It was fun getting to learn more about how the mafia operates on various levels in the city.

“One of the reasons why 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.”

This book covers a wide variety of themes like friendship, love, exile, revenge, crime, poverty, communication. I feel like there’s a lot for everyone. A lot of events happen due to which the protagonist’s life changes a lot and we see him come to a sort of understanding of himself. The book had a witty writing and I found so many profound, ‘quotable’ quotes. Sometimes, I found things to be a little cheesy but I don’t mind it. The story was amazing!

Even though I was intimidated by the sheer size of the book in the beginning, I enjoyed it thoroughly. It has a great potential to be an amazing TV series. Hope it happens. Apart from that, I highly recommend reading the book.

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I'm an introvert, agnostic-atheist, insatiable reader, fitness enthusiast, daydreamer, music-lover, cat-adorer, eternal optimist with a touch of cynicism, curious soul, annoying preacher, OCD for cleanliness with a teeny affinity for messiness!

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