53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Immersive and evocative read
Based on a true story, the tale of a wanted Australian ex-convict who moves to Bombay; sets up a medical clinic in the slums; joins the Indian mafia and even goes to war in Afghanistan is gripping stuff. Those looking for a thriller or fast-paced ride will be disappointed - whilst Roberts includes plenty of action, he also vividly describes not only his surroundings but...
Published on 11 April 2005 by dhbooks
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable prose, unbearable narrator
First of all, I must admit that this is the first time I have ever put a review on Amazon for a book which I didn't finish. This was lent to me by a friend with high recommendations, but I found it unreadable. Trying to read it is like swimming through treacle, or walking across the desert - it's so long and cloying, I had to stop partway through as I was losing the will...
Published 11 months ago by Stefan43
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Immersive and evocative read,
Based on a true story, the tale of a wanted Australian ex-convict who moves to Bombay; sets up a medical clinic in the slums; joins the Indian mafia and even goes to war in Afghanistan is gripping stuff. Those looking for a thriller or fast-paced ride will be disappointed - whilst Roberts includes plenty of action, he also vividly describes not only his surroundings but also his personal interactions with the residents and foreign nationals in Bombay. It is in this way that Shantaram excels, as a tale of how Roberts fits into the hugely varied Bombay lifestyle. In one way, Shantaram is almost a love story, with many of Roberts' actions revolving around a woman he loves - however, his propensity for getting into various dangerous situations meant that I couldn't put the book down. Whilst it is quite long, almost 1,000 pages of small type, it will keep you entertained and fascinated throughout, with Roberts' descriptions of India totally immersing you in his experiences.
201 of 220 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confused?,
Hmmm...I've read with interest the reviews of this book and I think that you'll agree they are somewhat polarised!
My reading tastes are quite varied, from the Classics to Alex Garland and although I will try to be as objective as possible, the fact is that I really enjoyed this book.
Firstly, I am motivated to write a review for this book because I am at a loss as to how anyone could so vehemently be opposed to it without having an axe to grind with the author, (as opposed to reviewing the actual story), but predominantly because, like other reviewers here, I absolutely loved it and naturally want to share my enthusiasm and recommend it to others.
For me, Shantaram is a truly engaging read. It is exceptionally well paced and will take you on a journey that will, at times, leave you breathless and unable to turn the pages quickly enough. The authors' consummate depiction of character, place and drama will absorb you entirely in a relentless mÍlée between the most noble and absolute base capabilities of human nature. Love, loathing, beauty, repugnance, tenderness and brutality - it's all here, in spades. However, there are two sections of this book which will enable you to catch up and assimilate, placed roughly at intervals between the first and second third of the narrative, and again between the second and third section. Believe me, you'll need these opportunities to relax a little.
The story of Lin, his travels, trials, dilemma and relationships with the individuals within the book are both enthralling and captivating in extremis. I would make claim that it is easily placed in my top five `you must read this' books. Such is my enthusiasm for this tome, I have bought several copies of Shantaram as gifts for friends and family, as I wouldn't dream of lending it to anyone, lest it not be returned!
He is certainly neither romantic, nor quixotic with regard to his immoral and corrupt past and, if you have any capacity for considered judgement, it is clear that he is not a merely one-dimensional character. If you find that you have no empathy with Lin, who has indeed led a fairly intense and criminal life, then you have either a very modest imagination, or are just a tiny bit dead inside.
As for the ending, well, I didn't find it disappointing, or that it `fizzled out' in the least. If you want a definitive conclusion to every storyline, then stick to Andy McNab, or the Hollywood film industry. The art of great entertainment is to have both thoroughly enjoyed the experience and to be left wanting more - I can't wait for further output from Gregory David Roberts.
So, "if you read only one book this year", make sure it's Shantaram.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable prose, unbearable narrator,
First of all, I must admit that this is the first time I have ever put a review on Amazon for a book which I didn't finish. This was lent to me by a friend with high recommendations, but I found it unreadable. Trying to read it is like swimming through treacle, or walking across the desert - it's so long and cloying, I had to stop partway through as I was losing the will to live. The prose style is overblown like a Mills&Boon romance (especially when Karla is around), and the narrator is unbearably narcissistic (he can't possibly love Karla, he loves himself too much). There seems to be an interesting true-life story underneath all this, but it's irretreviably hidden under the poor cliché-ridden writing. There are rumours of a film in the making; for once, the film could be far better than the book. Read R.Grey's one-star review - it's hilarious.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read,
This novel is both a combination of travel writing, crime thriller and one which questions your own beliefs as to the nature of of peoples crime and punishment for those who accept their wrongs. The prose if poetic although a bit flowery at times, I despaired the amount of times the author over described someones eyes and the flecks of various colours within. The main character is also a bit difficult to relate to at times. He's not likeable enough to dismiss his failings as acceptable nor is he flawed enough to be treated in the anti-hero mold. It is certainly better than average (3) but with enough gripes for me to consider it a masterpiece. I had two main issues. The first is as the way Lin is written. You initially think from the back cover that the story is autobiographical and this increases your interest. But as the story develops you feel that certain aspects are exaggerated and distorted. There is nothing wrong with poetic license but ultimately when it crosses into fabrication and you have been told otherwise I felt a little cheated and question what, if any of the story actually happened. My second gripe is the actual plot. The first half is gripping as we read Lin's story ad I was with him all the way but then about half way through there begins a sub-plot of an underground terrorist/revolutionary type that comes out of nowhere and bubbles under the surface for the rest of the book. Ultimately the reveal is disappointing. The final climax of the story as Lin travels on his greatest and most dangerous adventure since arriving in India also becomes apparent as probably not the actual truth and is a step too far plot wise for the wonderful, thought provoking character we meet at the beginning. With all that said, a good book will always have bits that not everyone likes and understandably those parts are more closely scrutinised and critiqued than perhaps those of a lesser book. It's worth a read without a doubt.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good story but in need of serious editing,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Let me start by being positive. This book gives a fascinating insight into life on the back streets of Bombay and into the criminal mind. In places it is readable and even exciting. The novel has also been successful. There can't be many living authors who can write a bestseller of 934 pages, and Gregory David Roberts should be congratulated for that achievement alone, even by those who didn't like the book.
For me, the book began well. Despite some initial misgivings about the style, I felt I was entering the fringes of a hitherto unknown Bombay society where decadence and subsistence level poverty mingled in colourful and almost contented disorder. One of the key characters in this introductory period is Prabaker, who gives Mr Roberts the name Lin, or Linbaba, and who acts as his guide. Prabaker stands out as being one of the few likeable characters in this book. He is also amusing with a sly sense of humour and hilariously idiomatic English, which is skilfully recorded by Mr Roberts. For about 300 pages, I confess to admiring Lin as he contrives to make a new life for himself, living off his wits and doing whatever was necessary to survive, including petty crime. And when he opened his "medical centre" - or First Aid post to be more accurate - in the middle of a squalid slum, I experienced the vicarious redemptive thrill of watching a drug dealing criminal transform himself into a latter day Albert Schweitzer.
However, when, Lin abandons his good works in the slum to become a full-time criminal, the book ceases to be a novel and becomes a self-justification of the author. It seems to me that he is saying: Yes, I have done some criminal acts in my time, but that was all because of my heroin habit which wasn't really my fault - and at heart I'm actually a pretty decent human being. Just look at the way I spout philosophy, and the way I can come up with an original simile for every occasion. Surely a guy like me can't be all bad? And it cannot have escaped your notice that all the men think I'm cool - except a few really nasty ones, like prison warders, whose opinions can be safely ignored. And whilst on the subject of prison warders, don't you think they're much lower forms of life than those nice criminals in their prisons? All this brings me neatly to the point - which many reviewers have noted before me - that this book is badly edited, or possibly hasn't been edited at all other than by the gentle hand of Mr Roberts.
Let me list a few of the things that bug me. Mr Roberts doesn't shy away from using long words - he uses a dozen words in this book that I haven't heard before and probably won't encounter again. Does this make him an intellectual? Does he think his readers ought to read with a dictionary in one hand? Hmmm. I'll keep my harsh opinion to myself on this one lest I sound bitter and twisted. Next there is the dialogue. Some conversations are allowed to meander meaninglessly for several pages before mercifully fading into oblivion. A character called Didier is allowed to spout banalities masquerading as aphorisms. Paradoxes should not be confused with wit or wisdom (unless written by Oscar Wilde). Dialogue is a great way to get into the mind of a character, but enough is enough. Too much is irritating and boring. Philosophy: Why do vicious criminals like Khader find it necessary to justify themselves by trying to explain the mysteries of the universe and the nature of God? Does it disguise their greed? Does it put them above the law? (M'lud, I may have sold a couple of ounces of heroin, but have you heard my dialectics? They must be worth a non custodial sentence...) My advice to anyone actually wanting to learn about philosophy is to read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder and ignore the druggy claptrap spewed ad nauseam in Shantaram. Finally the undisciplined use of purple prose gets really annoying after a while. I love similes and metaphors as much as I love chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream. But they are much more effective when they creep up on you like mischievous imps and cascade you with delight at their laser precision. (Sorry, but that's what happens when you use a B&Q paint aerosol to tint your prose.) In Shantaram, Mr Roberts seems to believe he is on a mission to teach young writers that it's always better to use a figure of speech than not to. I don't agree. There's a place for good old-fashioned plain English: A few powerful, apposite words can wipe the floor with a spongeful of soggy similes.
Well that's got the major gripes off my chest, but I have a couple of minor ones too. Mr Roberts' medical imprecision is distracting, for example he describes a fracture as compound, which should mean that a broken end of bone protrudes through the skin, but then he carefully explains that the skin around the fracture is unbroken. Also there is a revolting eye gouging incident where he seems to think that an eyeball can be removed from the orbit and then stuck back in again without any lasting harm being done. (Children, do not try this at home.) Finally there is the love interest, Karla, a woman who makes Lin fall in love with her by touching him up on their first meeting. The best thing about Karla, for me, is that she has many lengthy absences from the storyline. Mr Roberts tries to portray her as beautiful and enigmatic, but I just found her damaged and unpredictable. Anyway, the girl is quite superfluous. Linbaba doesn't need a love interest. He's patently deeply and irrevocably in love with himself.
To conclude, this is a badly flawed work, but buried underneath the excess verbiage is a potential classic. Please, Mr Roberts, if you ever read this, hire someone to cut this book down to 450 pages and leave the world with something that may still be read in a 100 years.
146 of 166 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars sometimes excellent but sometimes awful,
This book is less a story than an epic journey - with emphasis on 'epic'. At over 900 pages it requires some stamina and will power to finish. Luckily, much of the story is a joy to read: there are parts of this book that are brilliant, for example Lin's experiences in an Indian prison and as a soldier in Afghanistan are truly memorable. The descriptions of Bombay bring vividly to mind a colourful, lively, characterful place which borders on lawlessness but is held together by an 'Indian' warmth and love. Roberts' great respect for India shines through at every stage, even when describing its more ugly aspects.
However, the thing that really lets this book down is its huge sense of its own importance. If this novel were a person, I get the feeling it would be a David Brent style character, with an inflated sense of its own importance in the world, demanding the full attention of everyone like a party bore. It is full of purple prose, some so bad I winced to read it - for example, 'some things are so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you'. It is also full of philosophies on life, drawn out and irrelevant to the story line. The narrator is constantly describing himself as a 'tough man' which grates after a while: we get it, you're very macho and brave and intelligent but also soft and kind and noble. the narrator seems to have a very high opinion of himself. he even tries to put a noble spin on his past crimes by justifying his choice of armed robbery over other crimes such as house burglary.
this book could have been brilliant with a strict editor: if it was halved in length, lost the purple prose and the main character was occasionally weak or stupid (as all human beings are from time to time). it is still brilliant, sometimes. but that is a far cry from what the author was clearly aiming for.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic achievement but far from perfect .,
A brutally honest, searingly beautiful, astonishing but true, life story? Or a hotch potch of collected anecdotes stitched together with really really bad prose? Well I'm gonna lean towards the former but only just...
It really is a beast of a book, weighting in at just under 1000 pages but that length never feels unjustified. We take in the 8 years the author, or 'Lin' as he is know us, lived on the run in the steaming urban metropolis of Bombay in the mid eighties. Roberts tells us of his passion for India, details the workings of the criminal underworld as he rises through its ranks, describes the day to day routine of hardship and joy lived in Bombay's slums, the same slums which so captivated the world in Danny Boyles 'Slumdog Millionaire' and even presents us with his theories on particle physics as well as taking in a war and offering in depth discourses on grief, love, friendship and living with guilt. The characters are probably numbered in the hundreds but only occasionally did i find myself struggling to place names. The book is never dull and for a 'true story' all the main players have well plotted character arch's and all the lose ends are tied up.
So far so good right? Yes this is thoroughly engrossing book and a huge achievement for the author. I loved learning about India and life in the slums. Several characters leap from the page, the guide Prabaker with his broken English and huge smile and the Gay French borderline alcoholic Didier are huge fun and vividly realised. The descriptions of prison life and the torture Roberts experienced there (he claims on his website that these bits are true and here in reality worse than described) are brutal and brilliantly described. However i have two major problems, firstly I came to this book believing it to be a far more accurate autobiography than turns out to be the case. Now while reading it i did have more than a few moments of 'hang on a minute' and 'really? that's what happened? Really?' but overall i chose to suspend my disbelief and just go with it, all the while anticipating finishing the book and being able to find out more about this remarkable man and what happened to him. Anyway turns out that while the time line is more or less true and the broad facts can be checked out(his time in prison for example), this is as much a work of fiction as it is autobiographical. This in itself is fine, one of my favorite books of all time 'On the Road' is certainly guilty of the same thing but where Kerouac gives all the glory to those around him, this is all about the author. We get it your a tough guy, your sensitive and people love you... Again while your believing that all this actually happened that's fine, i mean if i had done all this stuff I'd wanna write about it to and whats the point in false modesty but the second there is doubt and you have an author attributing heroic and noble acts to himself then it stops sitting right with me.
This takes me to the second problem. The writing.
'I was staring at the river but i was thinking about a different river. One that flows through all of us. The river of the heart', or how about 'some things are so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.' They're just a couple of examples which have stuck with me, there are much worse.
Now that maybe okay for a stoned hippy but i found so much of the descriptive writing so bad, so overwrought, so purple that i skimmed though much of it. This really does link to the first point. If your a man who happens to have had this amazing life then puts it in a book, some bad writing is forgivable, after all your not a writer you just have an incredible story to tell. However if you are a writer and your making this stuff up then you have to be judged on the quality of the writing and this really isn't good enough.
Negative points aside the book really is worth reading, the colossal achievement of getting this all down on paper, all the characters, places and plots is truly astounding and in itself worthy of high praise. The dialogue also snaps with authenticity and is frequently peppered with a gentle humour which serves as a welcome counter point to the brutality of the books darker moments. The pace of the book should also be mentioned, to have all the aforementioned plots and characters is one think but to keep them within a narrative which is structured and focused and cracks along at a fast pace is another feat to be proud of. Also to be completely fair to the author, he never hides the fact that his work is a mixture of fact and fiction, it seems to be the books audience who are willingly complicit in a kind of myth making, giving the book an air of the fantastic which as i mentioned informed my perspective while reading and all in all increased my enjoyment of the book. Shame the authors a bit of an egomaniac but this is an epic testament to his clearly unshakable willpower and a achievement you shouldn't ignore.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This book made me so sad that only my soul could do the crying. Sob sob.,
I'm surprised that there aren't more middle of the road reviews here. Essentially, it's fantastic in parts, and makes you cringe with embarrassment or curse the author in others. The problems for me really are the ridiculous prose, the pretentious and meaningless philosophies of the author and his initial crew of friends (who are all right winkers), and his obsession with bigging himself up all the time (even when he's trying to admit a failing, he does so by boasting about something else). The plus points are the scope of the story, and the fact that somehow it keeps you coming back for more despite all its flaws.
The story can be gripping at times, though the strings of coincidences may go a little too far for some. There are some likeable characters, mostly locals rather than his idiotic expat friends. Prabaker in particular keeps things moving along with a chuckle, especially in the early stages. He does however have a slight Orientalist style of overly-romanticising and valorising everything local, which is fairly patronising at times. He also seems to be writing with the benefit of hindsight yet claiming at times that he or his friends foresaw events - the more recent rise of Shiv Sena for example.
The whole thing moves at an irregular pace, with, for example, a whole chapter on one fairly dull night in a bar, followed by another swiftly galloping through fires, a career as a doctor an encounter with a sword-wielding mentalist etc. There is always something just around the corner though, which keeps you going through the dull or outright infuriating bits.
The `David Brent' figure suggested by someone else here really is a fairly apt comparison. I found myself skipping through paragraphs whenever the author or his friends wibbled their cringe-worthy musings on the meaning of truth, the nature of change etc. The author also uses his own fatalistic philosophies to justify his lack of positive intervention in various circumstances, and paint it as the only thing that could have been done (he preaches that every attempt to ameliorate a situation will always exaccerbate it). Annoying to those of us who believe that some things can be changed for the better through human action.
The prose too, good lord the prose. His particular obsession is describing colour (particularly eye colour) in as ridiculous a way as is humanly possible (I think he wrote a whole book of colour descriptions and then forced them, screaming, into the book). Example:
"His eyes were the colour of sand." (ok, I can picture that) "In the palm of your hand." (erm, how thin is the layer? So can I see skin through it too?) "A few mintues before the sun goes down." (Err right. The colour of sand at sunset would have sufficed, you pretentious....)
They really should have produced two versions. A heavily edited version for normal people, and this version for the `spiritual' pop-psychology generation who think that anything written in print that purports to be intellectual must have deep meaning. It is worth a read, but be prepared to skip through bits or put up with some serious bull.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good story,
I have had this book on my shelf for nearly five years and was always put off reading it due its size and weight (hardly the easiest thing to lug around on the daily commute).
Finally I made the effort to read it, and for me, it was a book of two halves (first half I loved, and the other half I found disappointing).
Overall, this is a great adventure-packed story. It's easy to read and a good book to immerse yourself in on holiday. But don't expect a literary masterpiece (as the cover claims), as it certainly is not.
I found the first half especially gripping, in fact I could hardly put the book down. From page 600 onwards, however, I found myself becoming really quite bored and frustrated with the poor quality of writing and by how much the story was being dragged out. As I progressed through the book, the poor writing and fluffy nonsense-philosophy resulted in many an eye rolling moment, or I'd find myself cringing at the pure cheesiness of it. Had it been 300 pages shorter, I don't think this would have been the case.
The disappointment for me came from the fact that Shantaram really got me hooked to begin with, but the last 200 pages I was genuinely willing it to end!
Still, I'm glad I've finally read it, and would recommend it to others provided they're not expecting prize winning literature (as some of the reviews on the inside cover make out)!
Also, note to the publisher - consider publishing Kindle version, would make it a lot more portable!
322 of 375 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful,
The cover blurb looked interesting. The opening pages, describing the author's arrival in Bombay, were good. I'm going to enjoy this, I thought.
How wrong can you be.
This is an awful book. Awful.
My top four moans are:
- The way ALL the characters constantly speak in sub-Wildean aphorisms. Ever heard of tone of voice?
- The constant and cringeworthy GCSE-grade philosophy that we're meant to think is profound.
- The embarassingly florid prose that litters every page, and especially any passages involving Karla.
- The author's relentlessly inflated opinion of himself. Every other page we're meant to be in awe of the fact he learnt some of the local languages, and is therefore the most amazing Westerner to have ever visited India. Ever. (And every Indian thinks so too, of course.) As another reviewer said wearily: Everybody loves Lin. Simple villagers love him, slum dwellers love him, beautiful ex-prostitutes love him, gangsters love him, Afghani drug lords love him, taxi drivers always love him at a glance and so on and so forth. As a character, he's just unbelievable. And that's without getting into the fact he's absolutely The Best at Everything - from fighting to lovemaking, medicine to philosophy.
It soon became apparent that this book is shamelessly aimed at a certain kind of buyer: the upper middle class 18 year old on their 'gap' year, who thinks that smoking a few joints in Goa qualifies as discovering the real India and you just have to read this book man, it's like the real India and like sooo deep and profound and if like everyone read it the world's problems would be solved dude...
I invite all future reviewers to start contributing their own Shataram efforts. To get the ball rolling, here's mine...
"That's not a review of the book, it's a book of the review," stated Karla, as the stars of Bombay's glittering sky danced in her eyes like a thousand diamonds.
"You're just trying to be clever," drawled Didier, waving the Café Leopold waiter over for his 437th whisky of the last 3 minutes. "Whilst I, my dear, am clever to be trying."
Had I realised it then, the rest of my life could have been different. But then I'd spent the last 750 pages failing to spot the obvious, and constantly saying that I was failing to spot the obvious, until the reader died of boredom. Such is life. We wait for what we expect, and then fail to be surprised. God I'm profound. In Hindi. Of course.
"Indeed," opined Khaled, as he exhaled the chillum. The wisdom of a million camels reflected in his beard like cascading streams of gibberish, and I trusted him even more as he gently wafted a warrant for my arrest for crimes against literature across the fragrant Bombay night. "It is not the crime you should trust in a man, but the time you crust that matters in a man."
"You're just repeating the same over-contrived sentence structure over and over," gasped Karla, as she floated above the Taj Mahal with the passion of my lovemaking.
With an enigmatic shudder of her arching and elegant nostril, Karla left me once more, the way a fragile lotus flower floats downstream in the monsoon.
I walked back to the slum alone, up to my waist in filth, but I didn't care, for I was hard. A rampaging lion threatened to kill two small Indian children, until I flicked it off them with my little finger. After all, it isn't the lion that kills us, it's the lying. God, that's clever. "You're incredible isn't it," waggled the Indians.
Yes. But lonely. For isn't that our ultimate lot in life? It was a question I could undoubtedly spend another 1000 pages dribbling sub sixth form poetry over. In fact, I could even smell a sequel coming, there in the night air of Bombay. And it smelt like ****.
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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (Paperback - Nov 2005)
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