Book Review: Shantaram

It took me a long time to get into this book, but once the plot started to unfold and the series of events was so life changing, instructive and influential, I was hooked. I could not put the book down and even missed my stop on the buses and trains because I was captivated.

shantaram

Shantaram (narrated by Lin), written in 2003 by Gregory David Roberts, is about a man who was serving a 19-year sentence for robbery in Australia, Roberts escaped from Pentridge Prison and fled to India. It vividly portrays the tumultuous life in Bombay (note to self: must visit Bombay)

The escape-from-prison chapter had me gripped. Lin describes how him and his friend were escaping together. There were workmen in the corridors with saws and drills doing refurbishments and this was their chance to escape. The workmen went on a break and left all their tools. They had a window of 10 minutes to drill holes through roofs, climb ladders and try and get electricity for their drill, all without getting caught. Could they do it? As their first drill wasn’t big enough to cut through the roof, they had to change their plan and use another one which needed electricity. So Lin has to climb down to plug the drill in to the nearest power supply which is through a door where the security guards stand. He went for it and amazingly didn’t get caught. They managed to cut the hole, the daylight shone on them and they were free men. They had to wait on the roof, in a crevis, so the security guards couldn’t see them, for a further 20 minutes as there were lorries delivering orders to the prison and they would have been spotted had they moved. Once the coast was clear, they jumped over the wall and ran for freedom. Escaping from one of the highest security prisons in broad daylight made him one of Australia’s most wanted men for the next ten years.

He travels to India on a fake passport and meets a guy called Prabaker who names him Lin. Prabaker is a guide for Lin and shows him around the city and villages. They meet Prabaker’s mum who gives Lin a Maharashtrian name of ‘Shantaram’, meaning Man of God’s Peace, because she judged Lin to be peaceful and happy.

After getting robbed in the night, he ends up living in the slums, where he earns his neighbors’ respect by opening a makeshift clinic and learning Hindi and Marathi. Within a few hundred pages, Lin has encountered a Lonely Planet guide’s worth of third world dangers and annoyances — including cholera, human trafficking, a leper colony, a fire and cat-sized rats in nightly, knee-deep migration patterns.

He finds a father figure in a gurulike local mafia boss, an Afghan named Khader, and a lover in a mysterious Swiss woman, Carla. He works as a counterfeiter and smuggler within Khader’s criminal empire, abandoning a possible career as a Bollywood agent and joins a gun-running expedition to Afghanistan.

All in all its an A+ book, written with a wide range of characters of every moral persuasion, both good and bad. Roberts captures the human struggle to survive and thrive, for better and worse. It is written so well and so descriptively. I found myself reading pages of description about Lin’s escape from prison, about the slums, about the dirty prison he went to India on Arthur Street. He manages to paint his experiences so vividly. There is speculation about the book being turned into a film. I think the film would be amazing and really bring the story to life, but Im not sure if it would do the book justice as it is a glorious piece of three dimensional work.

Im now reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini which is equally as gripping.

What are you reading? And can you recommend any books?

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