Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

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Shantaram Source: Personal copy

Five words from the blurb: India, slum, fugitive, prison, redemption

Shantaram is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is an amazing story and the fact that most of it actually happened makes it even more incredible. It may be long, but every single page is a joy to read and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, The Mountain Shadow, when it is released in October.

In 1980 Gregory David Roberts escaped from a high security prison in Australia. He travelled to India using a fake passport and hid from authorities in a Mumbai slum. Shantaram chronicles his adventures as he integrates with the local criminal community; learning how to make money and protect himself in this dangerous environment. He commits many crimes, but the most interesting aspects of the book were the good things he did – setting up a health clinic in the slum and going to extreme lengths to help those around him. This book will make you question the boundaries between right and wrong and to admire the strength of the human spirit.

When all the guilt and shame for the bad we have done have run their course, it is the good we did that can save us. But then, when salvation speaks, the secrets we kept, and the motives we concealed, creep from their shadows. They cling to us, those dark motives for our good deeds. Redemption’s climb is steepest if the good we did is soiled with secret shame.

Shantaram contains everything I like to see in a book – fantastic writing, a cast of well-rounded characters, a compelling plot, and thought-provoking moments of deeper contemplation.  I was gripped throughout and found myself feeling sympathy for even the most notorious criminals. I loved the way everyone was deeply flawed, but most managed to conquer their problems and live a happy life, even when faced with unimaginable hardship.

This book explained a way of life that was unfamiliar to me, but by the end of the novel I felt as though I understood exactly what it would be like to live in this lawless society. The vivid writing created an atmospheric picture of their unconventional lives. Everything was described in unflinching detail, occasionally making the reader feel uncomfortable, but writing with a honesty that can only be admired. 

This is one of those rare books that is almost impossible to criticise. It is a modern classic and should be read by everyone. Highly recommended!

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16 Comments

  1. This sounds great – it’s one of those books I’ve seen everywhere but never actually picked up myself!

    1. Jackie says:

      Matthew, You should get hold of a copy – I’m sure you’d enjoy it :-)

  2. Wow. Wow. As I was reading your summary of the book, I said “Wait WHAT?” out loud because what you described is SO not what I thought this book was about. That sounds really, really fascinating!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, It is funny how we get false impressions of a book. I’ve done it several times with other ones. I’d love to know what you thought it was actually about!

  3. Diane says:

    I loved this one and even though it super long, I enjoyed every page.

    1. Jackie says:

      It’s amazing isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did :-)

  4. Mystica says:

    I loved, loved this book even though it was a chunkster. It was extremely aggravating for me to have to put this aside at the end of the day till I finished it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, I actually started reading this about 2 years ago, but rationed my reading as I didn’t want it to end! I kept re-reading sections to make it last a bit longer – there aren’t many books I can say that about!

  5. I liked Shantaram as well. Roberts’ real life story is so fascinated. I do worry that he won’t be able to pull off something as magical with his next book (which I will probably buy the day it is released). Big shoes to fill. I can also remember thinking that Shantaram was a little too long for my liking. The whole weapons to Afghanistan thing carried on too long for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tanya, Yes, I’m worried that the sequel won’t be as good, but I can’t wait to find out how he came to publish a book and would love to know what he’s doing now.

  6. I’m so glad you loved this one, Jackie! It was, far and away, the best book I read the year I dived into this one. And normally I don’t gravitate towards really big books, but this one just sucked me in and would not let go until I had finished it (although, I did find the Afghanistan section dragged a bit.). It was so bold and beautiful and heartbreaking… I still feel Prabakar haunting me to this day! Very excited to see whether the sequel stands up to this… it’s a very high bar!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, Yes, Prabakar is an amazing character! I loved how vivid the periphery characters were – so often only the central ones are well described. I’m glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did. Let’s hope the sequel is just as good!

  7. Was it the promise of the new book that prompted you to pull this one off the shelf? I have a copy that has been lingering that long too — despite a couple of resounding recommends, and now I’ll add your’s to that mental list — and sometimes it takes a solid nudge to finally mend a gap like that, doesn’t it. Soooo many books!

    1. Jackie says:

      Buried in Print, Yes – I’ve had a copy of this book for ages, but talk of the sequel made me interested in picking it up again. I’m so glad they did – this is definitely one that shouldn’t be left on the shelf!

  8. JoV says:

    I am so happy to see that you finally read and this and love it so much!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, Me too! It’s such a wonderful book, isn’t it?!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. July/August Summary and Plans for September – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts – Farm Lane Books Blog
  3. Farm Lane Book Awards 2015 – Farm Lane Books Blog

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