Written by Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is a mammoth of a novel. At over
900 pages long you may think it would take a feat of sheer endurance just
to get through. However, what you find is delicately affecting and lyrical
prose and rich characterisation emerging from a warm-hearted (if occasionally
over-the-top) story of searching, redemption and above all, love.
Shantaram is a book that only Gregory David
Roberts could write. And while this may sound needlessly banal, the book
is actually a fictionalised account (to what extent we are still unsure)
of his own life. In 1980 he escaped from an Australian prison where he
was serving time for armed robbery and recovering from heroin addiction;
armed with only a fake passport and endless bravura he makes his way to
It is here that our narrator, Lindsay – christened Linbaba and
later the eponymous Shantaram – meets a host of wonderful and sinister
characters as he weaves in and out of the rich tapestry of slum life in
Bombay. It’s a place of extremes where he comes to know the deepest
kindness while also becoming privy to the corruption erupting in his new
found home. He establishes a health care clinic while also working for
the Bombay mafia, falls in unrequited love, works in Bollywood and finds
himself back in jail, in India this time. His journey takes us from Bombay
to Afghanistan and back to his home country upon his eventual capture.
And that’s not even the half of it.
Roberts’ prose is often sublime and deeply philosophical, conjuring
up rich and powerful images of his new life and of those that drift in
and out of it. As a reader we are treated to an author with the power
to viscerally convey emotions and sensations with arresting immediacy.
What permeates the novel is the sense that we are reading a man self-fictionalising
and coming to terms with the choices he’s made throughout his life.
Unfortunately, with that come passages that, for all their good-will and
earnestness are often over-worked, indulgent and just plain sentimental.
But it’s the beautiful moments of vivid elegance and human insight
that redeem the novel and elevate it from the usual slew of semi-autobiographical,
lurid and self-indulgent memoirs. Life for Roberts’ narrator, and
I suspect Roberts himself, has not been a spectator sport; it has been
something to immerse himself in. He has not merely observed or passively
experienced anything and that may well be the best way to approach Shantaram
itself. Dive into this brave and earthy book; it’s not a spectator
Comment left by Sandra Gibson on 8th August, 2011 at 20:20
I'm impressed that Kathryn has been able to give such a succinct resume of this mammoth book!I'm half-way through and I agree with the reviewer about the parts that are overwrought. I will definitely read on because he is redeemed by his human compassion and insight.
Comment left by Elena on 13th April, 2012 at 13:28
I'll go check it out since I haven't met you yet in real life like other lucky people.I hgbout Shantaram a while a got but still haven't started reading it, did you, did you like it? I'm reading Memoirs of a Geisha atm and it goes slow since I only have time in bed in the evenings to get through 4 or so pages.