Shantaram by: Gregory David Roberts

Challenges: TBR Challenge, Chunkster Challenge
Published: 2003
# of pages: 933

Quote: “So much, too much, of the good that I felt in those years of exile was locked in the prison cell of my heart: those tall walls of fear; that small, barred window of hope; that hard bed of shame. I do speak out now. I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again.” -Lin p. 881
Shantaram is a well written novel based on the author’s own life. I was amazed when I read the first page where the main character, Lin, recaps his life and then the back cover “about the author”, where the description about Roberts matched Lin’s. It’s just amazing that Roberts actually experienced what seems to be a wild tale that couldn’t really happen to anyone. The story is fictionalized, and throughout the book I kept wondering if certain things that Lin experienced happened to Roberts as well. At the end of the book I still felt like Lin’s time in Afghanistan could have been changed to fit better into the story of Bombay and to shorten the book, but it did end up tying well into the rest of the story, so I can’t complain about that.

Lin is an escaped convict from Australia who runs to Bombay to begin a new, hidden life. He searches for love and acceptance and finds it in unexpected places and people throughout the city. He makes a living conducting illegal deals for tourists and makes enough money to live in a shack in the slums of the overcrowded city where he opens a free clinic for the slum dwellers. Eventually, events lead to him joining a Bombay mafia and the novel changes along with his life. He encounters beautiful people and ugly people. He experiences and tells about the most beautiful things in life like love, friendship, and selflessness as well as the ugliest things in life like death, drugs, murder, and pain. The reader has to experience all of this as well. There were times when I felt overwhelmed with the amount of bad language. Sometimes I didn’t mind, like when a word was used in ignorance or innocence or to be funny, but there were other times I wondered if it was necessary. But it is an honest tale, I suppose that is how the mafia dons and criminals in Bombay speak. I didn’t expect Roberts to gloss over his descriptions of homelessness, poverty, and crime, so I shouldn’t expect him to do the same with the everyday way of life among the people Lin was surrounded by.

I’m overall glad I read this book because it was a learning experience. The descriptions of Bombay and the Indian way of life strongly reminded me of my own experiences in Mexico City and Jakarta. It brought back good memories and reminded me that the American way of life is an exception to the way most of the world lives. Each time I travel to a city in a third world country I’m so grateful to experience something besides American ways of enforcing laws, driving, buying and selling, speaking, greeting others, eating, etc. It is also good to be reminded of how much I have to be thankful for and this book brought all of that back to me. I recommend others read it just to be able to “live” in another culture for a time, especially if you have not traveled to a third world country before. I don’t recommend this book if you are easily offended by other ways of life (religion, criminals, certain philosophies) or are bothered by bad language. Also, it is so long that you can’t read it if you are pressed for time!

Here’s a few pictures from my trip to Jakarta, Indonesia this past summer. The descriptions of Bombay in Shantaram reminded me so much of Jakarta.


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