Monday, January 30, 2012

Shantaram (Book Review)


I finally got around to read this book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book which has been in my possession over a year.  It is part of my TBR (To Be Read) mountain, and a natural part of my Reading Challenge
I started reading it on the plane to Mumbai a little more than a year ago, and it was very strange indeed to leave the plane and experience exactly what the author describes on that first page. The humid air, the people, the languages, the special something in the air.  And, only hours later, I found myself on the back of a 2-wheeler, speeding trough crazy traffic, exactly like the main character had been doing.
Luckily, there are not more similarities, except for me recognizing the country, the way people talk,  their gestures, the cooking, the chai drinking etc. I can smell India while reading.
The story is largely auto-biographical. How much of it that is fiction, well, that's hard to tell, and it doesn't really matter to me.
If you haven't read this 2003 novel yet, here are just a few words to help you decide: 930 pages. Yes, it's a huge novel, and everything is not excellent, but it is an amazing story, in which you get to know a world and a way of thinking that may be foreign to many of us. The main character has escaped from prison in Australia, arrives in Mumbai (then Bombay) with a false passport and is known as Lin. He meets Prabaker, an indian cab driver which becomes a close friend.  He goes to Prabaker's home village for 6 months, learns the language Marathi, and later moves into the same slum as his friend.  He lives in the slum for  months, helping out and making many friends.  
Then he gets to be part of the mafia, act as an extra in several Bollywood movies, goes to war, is imprisoned again, and the story goes on and on. Here and there, there are wonderful sentences like this one: 
"Don't worry...It's a great adventure, your life, and it has only just begun..."

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