Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Shantaram -- a book review

Shantaram 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!

*******SPOILER ALERT*****

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.

View all my reviews >>


  1. It sounds like a lovely novel or should I say epic '936' pages wow.
    Warm regards,

  2. This really does sound amazing, I will put it on my list. Of course the list keeps getting longer, but the books are the perfect place for cookie crumbs and milk.

  3. so glad you got to read this book, its one of my all time favs...he really is who he says he is...I think there is even a movie in the love this book...and yes some folks dont like his way of telling the story, but its his story, so I think he should tell it as he wants...glad you liked it...

  4. Sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

  5. Wow, I'm excited to put this on my list. (I didn't read most of your post because I didn't want to read any spoilers.) I have just begun The Fiery Cross!

  6. Anonymous4:33 PM

    Shantaram is a four-part novel. The first two parts, comprising 347 pages, are characterized by a vivid and inspired description of the lives of the poor residents of Mumbai and the rural areas. It is a life affirming work that offers the reader insight into the Indian sensibility and a deep sense of the love they share and how their lives are interwoven. The clear writing style achieves intimacy with the reader. Robert’s fictional
    Character Prabu, the guide, provides the reader with the opportunity to know the heart of India. Material goods may be limited, but love remains a valued treasure among the poor in a community where they have little else.

    When I completed John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”, it was the first time that I was inspired to return to page one and begin rereading the work. Although I still may do that with the first two parts of Shantaram, the 600 pages of parts three and four were a disappointment. I merely scanned them.

    The major problem with the last final 600 pages is that the novel devolves into a suspense novel. One standard formula for suspense films and novels is having the main character take unjustifiable risks and accept the friendship of people who clearly cannot be trusted. This novel contains its share of foreigners who have come to Mumbai; none are worth knowing. Parts three and four contain considerable quantities of brutality, violence, torture, and duplicity. If this has appeal, then the final two thirds of this book will prove most satisfying.

    One joy of writing fiction is the author can make people and life situations conform to the writer’s view of how they would like life to be. One unknown question in this autobiographical work of fiction is the character Lin consistent with the personality and behavior of Mr. Roberts, or is this the way he would like to have been?
    Bill Honer Costa Rica


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