Monday, November 15, 2010

146 - Shantaram; Gregory David Roberts













Shantaram, is at least in part an autobiographical novel, the first for Gregory David Roberts, an Australian prison escapee, and at one time Australia's most wanted man. He was an armed robber and a heroin addict, when he escaped from prison in the early 80's, with his fake passport in hand. Shantaram, is the Hindu name given to the narrator; it means "Man of God's peace".  Throughout the novel, the narrator is also called Lin or Linbaba, a name given to him by a street guide who took a liking to him. Traveling through New Zealand, the narrator ends up in Bombay, and this novel incorporates the story of his life, and the ten years he spent in hiding in India. In Bombay he lives in a slum, founded a medical clinic to treat the poor for free, he joined the local mafia headed by Abdel Khader Khan, who helps this man on the run. Although most of his time is spent in India, his time on the lam had him fighting with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, and he also found time to fall in love.

The book is full of colorful characters: Prabaker, the Indian street guide who takes a liking to Lin.  Karla Saarenen, a Swiss-American woman who is running from a troubled past.  Other characters include Quasim Ali, head of the slum, and let me not forget, Johnny Cigar.  There was so much to love about this 933 page book (I also had the unabridged audio which was fantastic). This story has it all --intrigue, corruption, misery, humor, joy, pain and love. The writing is outstanding. As the narrator tells his story, he does so in such a way that  you find yourself stopping to think and reflect about the way he has expressed complex emotional issues. Some of  the scenes that took place in prison made me cringe, and yet they seem very realistic.  In the end I felt like I had a much better understanding of the complexities of society in India in the 1980's.  The ending was perfect, in my opinion. I could envision a sequel or a movie in the horizon.

In real life, the author was recaptured and ordered to serve out the remainder of his nineteen year prison term. It was in prison that he wrote this novel. It took him thirteen years to write this as his first two drafts had been destroyed while he was serving his sentence.

I selected a few favorite passages that really made an impact on me......
"Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we've loved them, left them, or fought them."

"I clench my teeth against the stars. I closed my eyes. I surrendered to sleep. 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 of the 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."

"I'd always thought that fate was something unchangeable:  fixed for every one of us at birth, and as constant as  the circuit of the stars. But I  suddenly realised that life is stranger and more beautiful than that. The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good, or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love."
Shantaram is a must read for so many reasons -- do not let the size of the book discourage you. This is sure to make my top 10 list for 2010.

RATING - 5/5
Personal Copy and Library audio book

27 comments:

  1. I loved it myself but the size of it can be off putting for many.

    BTW the comments section is getting mixed up with the previous post. I dont know whether its my computer or blogger but thought I'd let you know.

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  2. Wow...how long did it take you to listen to the unabridged audio?? I would love to read Shantaram, and I love audiobooks, so I'm tempted to tackle it. Especially since you gave it such a glowing review!

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  3. This is one of my all time favorite reads. Oh, I wanted to quit work, curl on my couch and read from start to finish. I have yet to find a book this well written, this full of amazing characters and so moving. It takes a while to read but oh so worth it!

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  4. How horrifying to hear that his first two drafts of his work were destroyed! With such a high rating, I'm thankful that he kept on with it -- this really sounds absolutely fascinating, and I'm totally going to see if I can track a copy down now!

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  5. I enjoyed this book a lot as well. Although there were times when it dragged a lot for me and I did a little bit of skimming (Afghanistan for example), it was one of those books that you can't put down.

    When I read it I thought it was autobiographical as well, but it isn't.

    At least not in any substantial way.

    The author did escape prison to India, and some of the characters are inspired by some of the people he met there (in much the same way a lot of authors develop their characters I suppose), the contents of the story itself are fictional according to Roberts.

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  6. This sounds like such an incredible book. It is scary big but I still definitely have to read it. It broke my heart to read that his first 2 drafts were destroyed, especially since it is such a long book. It is going directly on my "buy now" list.

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  7. What an amazing and colorful life! How fascinating that he chose to turn his misfortune into a novel. Being in prison for 19 years and then losing my manuscript twice would have defeated me.

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  8. This sounds like such an incredible story and I have to read it, even though it is scary big. It broke my heart to read that the first 2 drafts were destroyed, especially since it is so long. It is going directly on my "buy now" list.

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  9. Great review. I must say, it was te size which was -ve factor for me. I will definitely someday get to this chunkster.

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  10. I have a copy of this and am really looking forward to reading it. I have heard so many wonderful things about it, but I didn't realise that it was autobiographical. I'm going to ensure I read it in 2011.

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  11. I like the sound of this. By the way I'm experiening the same problem as Mystica - I thought you'd want to know.

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  12. Wow, the top 10, it must be pretty darn good!

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  13. You've convinced me... love the passages you selected!

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  14. I'm so glad to know that I don't have to be put off by the size of this one. I was quite intimidated when I found it on the shelf and saw what a chunkster it was!

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  15. So, so glad to hear that you loved this book! I read it a few years ago, and made a permanent space for it on my shelf of favorites. I can still remember specific scenes within the book, and I think you have inspired me to want to read it again. Great review on this one!

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  16. Sounds interesting, but I don't know if I need to be reading the gruesome stuff right now. Is it gory? If not, I will check the library.
    Kat

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  17. Truly wonderful review. I enjoyed all the passages you quoted, especially the last one.

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  18. This just sounds fascinating ...both the book and the author behind it.

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  19. Wow...what an amazing story for sure and the whole background information makes it even more intriguing!

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  20. You opened up my eyes when it came to this book. I've seen in a million times on the shelf and never cared too much about it. It's fascinating he wrote it in prison and I am very impressed you read and listened to the audio to hear the story.

    :)

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  21. My partner is currently reading this book and loving it. He's also been to India, so it's fun for him to revisit the country, so to speak. He's read sections of the book to me (mostly involving Prabaker), which I've loved. However, I'm not so sure about reading the book myself -- I gather the time Lin spent in prison in India was pretty harsh. Still I love Roberts' writing style!

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  22. WOW - this is my kind of book. I am in the middle of building a must read post and will add this to the list. I hope my library has an audio copy.

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  23. I have wondered as to the significance of this book's title, so thanks for mentioning that.

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  24. This is one of those books that I can't believe I haven't got around to reading yet, I must get a copy soon.

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  25. Ooo! You do make this sound good, Diane. I really do want to read this.

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  26. When I was in India earlier this year, I saw many people reading this book. I have to admit the size does intimidate me but your recommendation is convincing me I should brave it!

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  27. I loved this one too. It's my husband's favorite book and he's not even a reader. Loved the characters and the writing. Definitely worth rereading even with its size. There are so many things to reflect upon.
    Glad it gained another convert :)

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