Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is now one of my favorite books of all time. And there are now major spoilers in my review, so if you don't want things ruined for you, move on now!
OK, those now reading know that I'm going to tell key elements of the story.
This is a loooong book, 936 pages in the edition I read. It's about a man known as Lin, a man who escaped prison and ended up in Bombay. Throughout the book, he lives in a slum and opens a clinic for the slum dwellers, becomes a member of the mafia, runs forged passports over various borders, and makes an ill-fated journey to Afghanistan to fight a war.
Roberts' prose has been called "embarrassing" by some, but I found it amazing, so much so that I marked key passages. I felt for Lin in so many ways -- his unrequited love for Karla, his father-love for the mafia lord Khader, his love for best friends Prabaker and Abdullah. I wanted to put the book away when Prabaker and Abdullah died in the same chapter, dying a little with Prabaker and the extinguishing (in more ways than one) of his trademark smile. And then when Abdullah resurface, not dead, but healed from horrible damage - I was happy for Lin but knew it was almost too little too late.
I think that the end of the book was apt, with Lin moving back to the slum, the place where he was the happiest. Knowing without a doubt that Karla was never going to love him, knowing that the mafia was no longer the home he knew with Khader dead, the slum called to him. Enough pieces were tied up to make the ending satisfying without being too convenient.
This is a fascinating read on many, many levels. I'm so glad I finally read it on a friend's nudging and urging. If you want something completely different that anything else you've ever read, this one is for you.
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