Book Review: “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts

by britishmisk

I first heard about this book after a review on a friend’s blog, and then hearing a mutual companion of ours mentioning to him how great a read it was. After exploring the reviews on Amazon I decided to add it the shopping basket. Now after having spent something around a month reading it I will boldly say it is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

The main criticism people have of Roberts’ novel is that it’s claimed the story is based on his own experiences, although he admits he has exaggerated certain aspects, this doesn’t sit well with many readers as they are expecting an autobiographical story, and it is blatantly obvious he has made quite a few things up. Personally speaking, the story is a fictional novel based on his experiences, reading the story you get the feeling the writer actually did go through everything he is talking about, which I think is testimony to the genius of his writing, because eventually you will say to yourself “that can’t have really happened”, despite the fact you would like to think it did.

The story traces the steps of the protagonist as he arrives in Mumbai after escaping from a high security Australian prison. From living and working in one of the slums, to being involved with the mafia, falling in love along the way, spending time in prison, and then if all that wasn’t enough, helping the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The beauty of the book is the language. At times it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a novel but rather poetry, the depth of the writing and the swirl of emotions being portrayed are some of the best pieces of English literature I’ve read. You feel like you are a part of this journey and you experience everything the writer is drawing out for you.

Roberts has said this story is the second part of what he sees as a five part series. Despite the fact the book came out nearly 10 years ago, none of the other parts have been published. The prequel to this, The Mountain Shadow has been pushed back a number of times, and now has an expected due date of March 2013. There has also been a film adaptation working its way around the pipelines for a while with Roberts writing the screenplay himself, but this has also been pushed back repeatedly. Whether he will be able to write the remaining books given how long the second one has taken will remain to be seen. But I am definitely looking forward to reading more of the story of Linbaba aka Shantaram if and when it ever sees the light of day.