Gregory David Roberts 2003 Abacus Books
Oh My! What to say about this beast of a book, an epic read at over 900 pages of small condensed writing – this was a long read folks!
From the back –
‘In the early 8os, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love and spend time worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone thought he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan…Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shataram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower…At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision’ Time Out
And that is Shantaram, the story of Gregory David Roberts’ time in India following his escape from prison 2 years previous. Entertaining and well written this is one hell of an adventure. A vast cast of colourful characters from slum dwellers to Mafioso and everything in between. Roberts successfully captured the personality of the characters but less so the flavour of India despite detailed descriptions generating imagery. The characters were almost with out exception engaging and likeable which, while enhancing the read was actually a flaw insofar as in the most part these people were gangsters and criminals or living in abject poverty. While this was made explicit in the prose, I was left with a sense that the story had been romanticised, living in the slum was almost appealing and the gangsters, in particular the leader was a charismatic and spiritual man with high morals, which at times were clearly questionable.
Within this book there was wisdom and Roberts is clearly a man who takes advantage of every opportunity that comes, a people person who seems to agree to most things, a trait I like. He writes well and this book made me giggle on several occasions and shed a few tears on others and it is a great story. But it was too long and there were too many characters, at times my concentration wandered and other times I wasn’t entirely sure who the characters were, but I also realised that was ok, I didn’t have too!
A 3.5 star read from me, which if I was recommending I would suggest trying to read quicker than I did (it took 22 days) so maybe on a beach holiday when time is at a premium.
While reading this book my assumption was that it was autobiographical, on the back cover –
A novel of high adventure, great storytelling and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld
In hindsight perhaps that comment should have indicated it wasn’t but hey! it didn’t, I thought I was reading an autobiography. So researching a little further, I came across a response from the author stating the book is a novel, the characters are fictional as is the dialogue but the story is based on real experiences. So perhaps in writing this book Roberts chose to put a positive spin on everything, with him as the hero, and perhaps that was how it was or perhaps that’s what we call artistic license.