“SHANTARAM” (image c.o kartikkothari.blogspot.com)
It has been a long time since a novel has so immersed me in its world. From the first chapter, Gregory David Roberts’ autobiography delivers the smells, sights and sounds of India. I was whisked away into vivid memories of my own travels in South India last year: crazy traffic, roadside stalls, slums, immaculate hotels and the charisma of the people.
Shantaram is a page turner but the reading of this novel is a task which should not be taken up by the faint hearted. It is a beast, at over 900 pages long. (About the size of a brick). The first three parts, particularly, are full of action and humor with a splash of romance and characters which you can’t bear to part with, such as the grinning, Prabaker.
The final two parts tend to drag a bit but are a must read as, like a Harry Potter book, they form the climactic denouement of the story’s the chain of events.
Some have said that the events recorded in Shantaram are exaggerated and, in parts, completely imaginary. It is easy to see why they would think this. Gregory (Lin) finds himself in prison being beaten, in the bed of a beautiful woman, in several knife fights, attacked by a pack of dogs, starting a free medical clinic in a slum, babysitting a child, in an isolated Indian village, hugging a bear, addicted to heroin in a drug den, freeing a prostitute from a brothel and in the council of a local branch of the Bombay Mafia.
Shantaram is a book of contrasts and opposites. The book opens with Lin’s learned wisdom: that in life you have a choice, to forgive or not to forgive. Shantaram is an exploration of how Lin came to his own decision. It also explores the power and influence of our decisions on the lives of other people. We are able to love and do good so desperately and to hate and destroy so devastatingly.
If you like this you might also like:
‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland
‘Q&A’ by Vikas Swarup
‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini
‘The Potato Factory’ by Bryce Courtney (or anything by Cortenay for that matter)