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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review - Gregory David Roberts's SHANTARAM

I do not even know how to start to review this book. Based on some of the author's own experiences and life the story depicts how a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict spends ten years in India.

Narrated beautifully, so descriptive as to be almost unbelievable the story starts with his arrival in Bombay enroute to Germany. Deciding to stay back, befriended by Prabaker a guide who becomes a true friend - after having been robbed of all he owns, Lin as he is now known lives in the slums of Bombay as part and parcel of the teeming city, befriending many, setting up a clinic of sorts and helping people in the slums. Being in such close contact with the people of the slums he learns Urdu, Marathi and Hindi and amazes those around him with the way he adapts to the local environment.

Reading it one feels that it is biographical but the author says that he has taken only some events from his own life and added to it. This is a book which takes you into every level of Indian society - from the village with its simple rural folk, to the slums of Bombay with the mass of humanity - poor and striving to get out of this poverty, then the middle class and the uber rich. The different layers of society are very clearly marked and revealed all in its respective place - forming the whole which is Bombay. The corruption in both the police and justice systems, the gangs that operate and control every aspect of life, the foreigners on the periphery are all depicted in this story.

I particularly liked the way the characters can balance their professional lives as being hit men, murderers, gangsters with their private life of being good Hindus, Muslims or Christians. The two were distinct entities and one did not infringe on another. A difficult balancing act but which is done perfectly in the story.

The story is in turns swashbuckling, very pirate ish!, gruesome, and uplifting. The degrees of friendship and brotherhood that develops between some of the characters is inspiring and the level that people will stoop to, to achieve power and glory are also awesome.

An excellent read (to be done in stages!)


  1. I like your review. I've heard of this book. For certain reasons didn't decide to read it. Your review makes me want to read it.

  2. This one has been on my TBR pile for so long now, I almost forgot about it. The sheer size of it scares me, but I must get to it now. Loved your review.

  3. This one is on my I-Must-Read-Before-I-Die list and your review reinforces that I definitely must!

  4. How interesting this sounds. That balancing of a the so righteous careers with the religious beliefs made me think of mafia families. It does seem a strange mix.

  5. This sounds like a fascinating book-thanks for posting on it-

  6. I so want to read this. I was supposed to participate in a read-a-long for it but everything else piled up and I never did get a chance to get to it. I'm glad to hear it's good since I still plan on reading it.

  7. As with others, I find the size intimidating, but the size makes sense if it is showing every level of Indian society within its pages.