There are two essential problems with the story. First Murakami's prose is repetitive to the point of annoyance. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a literary technique, a translation issue, or simply an artifact of the book being written in three parts, but it is frustrating to listen to. Second, there are two narrators in the first two books, and a third narrator is added in book three. This is not only confusing but wholly unnecessary. It feels like a fault of poor editing, or more likely, laziness on Murakami's part.
The story is narrated by three characters, thus there are three narrators. Overall, the audiobook suffers from a lack of coordination of the three voices. Names are pronounced differently by each narrator, for example.
This is one of the best audiobook performances I've ever heard. "Shantaram" is a long, extraordinary novel with as many twists and turns as the Bombay slums it portrays, so settling into it is a true commitment. Given the length, the story itself does ramble and there are too many philosophical diversions for my taste, but overall, "Shantaram" is a compelling epic presented in a highly enjoyable narration.
Though "Shantaram" is more recent history, the variety of memorable characters and the quality of the performance reminds me somewhat of the "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett.
Each and every character has a unique voice, with accents as varied as Australian, Afghanistan, Swiss/German, Spanish, American, Nigerian and many variations of Indian, as the book is set in Bombay, now Mumbai. Bower's ability to differentiate the characters through their dialogue is especially helpful given the complexity of the plot and the extraordinary number of significant characters. Even when a character has been out of the plot for several chapters, Bower's tone and inflection quickly brings the correct character to mind. Roberts does an excellent job of creating memorable characters, and Bower effectively brings them to life.
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