on 11 April 2005
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.
on 3 April 2007
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 mêlée 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.
on 5 October 2010
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.
on 16 July 2013
Gregory David Roberts is quite clearly a narcissist, but that doesn't stop this being a wonderful read. He brings to life the land and the people you meet in a thoroughly engaging tale.
If people who can't stop talking about themselves grate particularly on you this one might be worth missing.
on 8 June 2008
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.
on 8 October 2013
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.
on 13 January 2009
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 ****.
on 25 October 2009
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.
on 11 August 2013
I love this book. It's engaging, I can understand a lot of the marathi words which are similar to gujarati words, and I can relate to a lot of the descriptions written about in the books, because India (and Mumbai) is a place I have been to many times.
The book's descriptions of places are both vivid and in my opinion fairly accurate. This makes it that bit more engaging. It also has a bit of a moral element to it and makes me think about my life and how lucky I am to live in London with what I have, even though I'm unemployed. This book really makes you think about what you have in life and how materialistic we are in the west, and how little we (as people) could actually live with. Also it makes you grateful for what you have.
Great book with a philosophical element to it. Highly recommend reading it. With the new amazon book + kindle offer, I would get this option and read it on a kindle when out and about because it is a hefty book!
on 5 October 2013
Two friends lent me this book in the same week. I was obviously meant to read it. I was so glad I did. What a fantastic book. It captures the backdrop of Bombay (or Mumbai as it is now) with such accuracy. You can almost smell and taste it, as well as visualise it. Roberts uses such wonderful accurate descriptions and his dialogue is second to none. Combined with the fast moving adventure story based on his own life of prison escape, slum dwelling, working for the Indian mafia and drug addiction you have the ingredients for a first class story.Oh and of course there is the obligatory love story thrown in for good measure. If you only read two books this year, make them "Shantaram" and "Warrior on the Wall".
Just one word of warning..."Shantaram" is 933 pages long, so the paper version is very bulky. The hard back weighs a ton. I downloaded to Kindle which is by far the most sensible way to read it.