Taylor K.'s Reviews > Shantaram

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
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Dec 24, 08

bookshelves: fiction, recommended, own, ramble-on, favorites, non-fiction, real-people, in-a-land-far-away
Recommended to Taylor K. by: JFS
Recommended for: adventurers, sentimentalists / anyone who enjoys earnest, honest writing
Read in December, 2008

Perhaps this is just me, but I don't think a book has to be perfect to be great. In complete truth, I actually find books that are perfect a little boring, a little hard to connect to. When I can see that the writer is human, that they, too, have flaws, it makes me all the more interested, all the more invested in the work.

Shantaram is not perfect. But, frankly, asking it to be is unrealistic, considering it's the story of its author, David Gregory Roberts, a man leading a semi-normal life (maybe), but then lost his family and friends, became a heroin junkie/addict, committed rather serious crimes, wound up in an Australian prison, then fled to Bombay where he ran a free clinic in the largest slum and performed various tasks for the Indian mafia. Roberts spent most of his life in unsavory living conditions. To ask that he be a perfect writer, as well? If that isn't the smack of elitism, I don't know what is. (Of course, you could argue that assuming he couldn't be a perfect writer due to living in those conditions is also the smack of elitism, I suppose, but I digress.) Still. The man wrote this in jail.

It's true. Roberts is not a tremendous writer. He is an unflinchingly earnest one, unafraid to let his emotions well up and occasionally cloud some of the proper literary devices. And he is also quite fond of spreading around one-liners and paragraphs of profundity, which are equal parts true, head-scratching/debatable, and ridiculous. I forgive him these things. Looking back on a chunk of one's life that is so expansive, so life-altering, so eventful would be incredibly difficult to do without the knowledge and emotion of hindsight. It would also make for a more dry, detached read, and part of what really makes Shantaram is Roberts' earnest qualities, his emotion, his heart. It leaves the book with a deliciously ironic characteristic, which is that while Roberts searches for his own "goodness," the readers are constantly seeing proof of its existence.

Having pointed out the flaws of his writing first, it must be said that Roberts is not a bad writer. One of the most important parts about writing about an exotic locale is the attempt to capture the essence of a place to the extent that those who haven't, say, lived in the slums of Bombay get the sense of what it might be like. Roberts does this almost effortlessly, and not just at certain points, but throughout all 900 pages of Shantaram. His descriptions and attention to details are on point. Shantaram will make you ache to go to India.

At the heart of every novel is its story, and the story of Shataram is, unsurprisingly, what makes it. While it's shelved in fiction, it's also known that it's not so untrue. Roberts did escape from an Australian prison, flee to India, run a free clinic in a slum and work with the mafia. Any falsehoods in Shataram are probably mere trifles of technicality, although Roberts himself has claimed it's as much fiction as fact. But you can't blame the man for having his tail between his legs on the matter considering his openness about the Indian mafia and black market. Could it be more fiction than fact? Of course. But where's the fun in thinking that?

The novel's magnificence is as much in the action (living in the slum, escaping out of Australian prison, being wrongly sent to an Indian prison, trading currency on the black market, forging passports on the black market, etc.), as it is in the people, from Didier, the gay french alcoholic with a trucker's mouth, to Karla, Roberts' elusive, beautiful ice-queen love interest, to Prabaker, the horny as hell taxi driver with a big smile who takes Roberts home to meet his family. Any one of the main characters would have been worth a novel in and of themselves.

Shantaram is a big, messy, thrilling story. If you can handle things that aren't in perfect packages, there's an incredible book awaiting you. This one.
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Reading Progress

10/05/2008 page 341
36.43%
12/03/2008 page 690
73.72% "The end is creeping. Both upset and excited by that fact."
12/23/2008 page 852
91.03% "I WILL finish this before x-mas eve."
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Ken (new)

Ken I started to read The Road last year, and I began to have nightmares. As much as I want to read it, I'm hesitant to get back to it.


Taylor K. Yeah, his books are pretty bleak. But I'll probably read that next. Unless it gives me nightmares, too!


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