"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum-security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas - this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.
©2003 Gregory David Roberts (P)2006 Blackstone Audiobooks
"Shantaram is a novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty. If someone asked me what the book was about, I would have to say everything, every thing in the world. Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria, what Melville did for the South Seas, and what Thoreau did for Walden Pond: He makes it an eternal player in the literature of the world." (Pat Conroy)
"[A] sprawling, intelligent novel…full of vibrant characters…the exuberance of his prose is refreshing…Roberts brings us through Bombay's slums and opium houses, its prostitution dens and ex-pat bars, saying, You come now. And we follow." (The Washington Post)
"Few stand out quite like Shantaram …nothing if not entertaining. Sometimes a big story is its own best reward." (The New York Times)
The novel is apparently autobiographical, and the experiences related are remarkable--escape from prison, heroin, living in the Bombay slums, working for the Bombay mafia, being tortured in an Indian prison, running guns into Afghanistan. Roberts certainly has stuff to write about compared to your average novelist who's been to college and got an MFA in creative writing.
Positives: the account of how things work in Bombay, and what the people from various social orders are like is truly interesting. The story is engaging most of the time. Sometimes, Roberts' lyrical writing style captures an experience with an apt metaphor. The narration is superb--every accent and mood perfectly conveyed.
Negatives: 1) There is a lot of rather second-rate philosophizing. This was my biggest complaint. You can get away with this if you're George Eliot; but Roberts needs to hold this tendency in check. The conversations with Kadah (sp?), the mafia don, were especially tedious since the philosophy being expounded was so full of glaring holes. E.g. It's just not true that modern physics says that "everything is moving toward complexity." There's no reason at all to call this state of complexity "God" since it doesn't remotely resemble what most people mean by "God". And the claim that whatever aids this movement is good is repeatedly asserted without argument and is a crude example of what philosophers call the "naturalistic fallacy."
2) The lyrical writing often spills over into corny metaphor that is over the top and not well thought out.
3) Although the protagonist often says how ashamed he is of himself, and how he's led a "wicked" life, the story comes across overall as a bit self-serving. He is evidently brave, loyal, passionate, generous, and talented.
4) I felt the last section of the book began to seem directionless.
To be fair, the book kept me engrossed, and I'd listen to it again. You learn a lot. But it would be a better book if it was half as long.
Much has been said and written about Shantaram. It is controversial because it is reported to be somewhat based on the author's real experiences in escaping prison in Australia and living in Bombay. However, Gregory David Roberts has been accused of exploiting the real people that his characters are based on and of making promises to the slum dwellers in Mumbai that he never follows through on. All that aside, it is an extremely interesting and emotionally compelling story in which you come to love the characters portrayed. Sure, the writing is sometimes not very good. In fact, I actually laughed at some of the prose describing the first time that Lin makes love with Carla. But, all in all, it was a story that I didn't want to end.
Humphrey Bower's performance was just fantastic. His pacing, creation of characters, accents and emotional performance was just perfect for this sweeping novel. I don't think I've ever heard as good a performance except maybe from Craig Wasson's narration of King's "11-22-63: A Novel". I will be looking for other books that he has narrated.
I thoroughly enjoyed Shantaram and was sorry when it was over. I hope that Gregory David Roberts' reported sequel is as good and the on again, off again, movie version doesn't ruin the book.
If I was reading this book I doubt I would finish it. Although much of the story is fascinating, I think all the philosophy and self aggrandizement would get very tedious. However, the narration is absolutely brilliant - the characters come to life, the different accents are flawless, it is hard to believe that one reader could have such a diverse range. Humphrey Bower has raised the bar for all readers.
Don't let the length scare you away! I'm an inveterate audiobook fanatic in scope and range of genre yet as a reader and professional writer, I maintain a pretty high bar---more is not better and this is a long listen. Shartaram is definitely in my top five.
Roberts delivers an amazing literary three punch with memorable, heartfelt characterization, an intriguing, magnetic storyline and painterly visual descriptions.
What puts Shantaram at the top are the deep moral and philosophical conversations woven into the characters and the story's exotic cultural journey. I will recommend this book to several constant readers but as an audiobook, Humphrey Bower (I would say his best work) makes Shantaram a stellar media performance experience.
I loved every minute of this book. It is superbly written, and the performance of Humprey Bower really made it come to life. After listenning to this book, I am having hard time enjoying others.
Worth your time and credit.
Enjoy the book!
I enjoyed insight into the culture - especially that of the slums. I could have done without all the philosophy. Also, the author tries to dispense many "truisms" that sound clever and insightful, but under closer inspection, seem flimsy. I think a sprinkling of these would have been fine, but I was gritting my teeth half-way through.
Yes, to the right person, but with several disclaimers.
I laughed out loud when the narrator takes a shower with Prabakar in the village for the first time.
I bought this book since I’m a fan of the narrator Humphrey Bower, but the book exceeded all my expectation. It is well written, exciting, warm, surprising and fun to listen to. After more than 150 audible books, this is absolutely one of my favorites.
I bought both the kindle book and the audio version, since I often like to switch back and forth between them. The reader's performance was so good, however, that I never even considered opening the book.
The book totally changed my view of India. I still don't believe the slums are nice places, but this book gives some insight into how people can tolerate living there. It is also a very interesting tale of the main character's journey and growth as a man and a human being.
This book contains a multitude of characters from various nationalities, and Bower enacts each and every one of them to great perfection - he easily amplified my enjoyment of the book tenfold. I have heard some who've read the paper version say they got the characters confused, but Bower's performance made that much easier to follow (although I occasionally ran into trouble with than when they entered the Afghan mountains).
I cried several times, and laughed out even more. Just beautiful!
Really loved this book it's truly a modern classic. The narration is really excellent with amazing voices that add so much to the book. Only quibble is the women's voices are a bit strange at times, but totally a non issue in the end. I actually got a copy of this audiobook awhile ago from a friend which is the one I listened to, but wanted to support the author so I got it here too, plus I bought the actual book! Really good narrator!
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