Shantaram Shantaram discussion


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Disliking Shantaram is either Hypocrisy from Indians or being nice to India.

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Aaditya Mandalemula I've noticed and read many hate reviews to this book. I found this book great. I live in India and this is exactly what I find here. Any Indian who denies this is a hypocrite and any foreigner who denies this is being nice to India. India is a struggling nation. Struggling with unreasonable ideals. The repression of desire. Lack of enough thought. There are Indians who gave good enough thought about life, there are and were absolute geniuses in India (Ramanujan, Gandhi, Abdul Kalam for instance) but they are too low in percentage.

Sometimes to understand the hunted, it takes one. Indians are hunted for centuries. I'm not talking about British rule. They are hunted by their own ideals. Their own lack of flexibility to adapt. Their lack of practical understanding of the world. Their aversion to think about things in a more rational way. Their inclination to wait for a hero rather than trying to take the initiative. Their belief in instinct rather than thought when they finally take the initiative. Gregory David Roberts has seen this all and reported it to us. And most of us who want to see India as the holiest of holy places will not find it easy to agree with.

By the way, don't go into some thickly populated region in India and ask them if what Roberts said is true. Most Indians are doing a great job trying to ignore their misery themselves, watching the romantic and superhero films (most Indian films are super hero films, with the hero having supernatural abilities at beating hundreds of flatly drawn bad guys into pulp with his bare hands, somewhat like Batman, yes), pushing their state of existence out of their consciousness with a fantasy of glory and devotion filling their mind, fear and thoughtless hard work in reality, resulting in slavery and frustration. They won't admit it is true.

There are some absolute gems in India, but they are too less in number.


message 2: by dely (new) - rated it 1 star

dely The reason I didn't like the book isn't what Roberts writes about India. The problem is how he writes, all the characters are flat, his alterego in the story is full of exaggerations: he knows always what to do, he does always the right thing in the right moment, the most beautiful girl falls in love with him, he survives in prison...he doesn't seem "normal" but a superhero who here and there shows some weaknesses to seem more normal.
Also, there are some "philosophical" sentences which are really trival and ridiculous but it is as if Roberts wants to appear deep and intelligent.
The whole book lacks of credibility, this isn't a fictionalized autobiography, the events are totally not believable.


Aaditya Mandalemula You started from 'I didn't like the way it is narrated' to 'it is totally not credible', which contradicts your first sentence, 'The reason I didn't like the book isn't what Roberts writes about India'.


message 4: by dely (new) - rated it 1 star

dely I don't like his writing style and the narrated events aren't credibile. Why should it cotradict with "the reason isn't what he writes about India"?


message 5: by Aaditya (last edited Nov 30, 2013 05:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aaditya Mandalemula Your sentence 'the whole book lacks credibility' was the one that contradicted the first sentence 'the reason isn't what he writes about India'. You said that what he wrote is not credible, which you said in a manner of - lack of credibility isn't something I like. Which means, you did not like what he wrote. That is exactly where I found the contradiction dely.

I see the exaggerations too, but not as much as most people see. The most beautiful girl falling in love with the protagonist has been a big cliche of course. But surviving prison, I've seen and heard of people who survived prison. It happens in the real world.

And there are many reasons to believe that this is not a fictionalized autobiography, but then the author decided to categorize it under 'fiction' and thus allowed himself some poetic liberty.

The best thing I liked in this book is he showed me India through an escaped convict's eyes. I, myself, feel like an escaped convict since a long time here in India. Escaping misinterpretations, torture and isolation by pretending to like what the society demands me to like.


message 6: by dely (last edited Nov 30, 2013 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

dely Aditya wrote: "Your sentence 'the whole book lacks credibility' was the one that contradicted the first sentence 'the reason isn't what he writes about India'. You said that what he wrote is not credible, which you said in a manner of - lack of credibility isn't something I like. Which means, you did not like what he wrote. That is exactly where I found the contradiction dely."

I didn't mean that what he writes about India is unbelievable, but what happens to the main character. For example, he arrives in the slum and he has a first aid kit with which he saves a lot of lives (too much for a small first aid kit); the story of his escape from prison; when he is called for help by the tamers of bears who are in prison and also the bear had been closed in a cell; when he is surrounded by very angry stray dogs and he fights and wins; when he works for the local mafia, hits some enemy and there is the scene with the eye dangling out of the orbit of the enemy, when he wants to punch the dangling eye...the book is full of such things. It is worse than a film with a perfect superhero.
I'm not discussing about what he writes about life in India: mafia, corruption, slums and so on.


Dieuwke I agree with both of you. Having lived in India there's no denying life is hard for most people. I loved reading the book for that part as he is spot on with his observations.
But I didn't finish the book. Didn't even get halfway. The narration is just so bad. Plainly bad. Flat characters, contradicting himself ("That's when I really knew I loved Pradeep" -I think he finds out every chapter.) The pseudo philosophical parts are too much to bare and I can't believe him repeating over and again he has never killed, yet he is "one of the most sought criminals of Australia". What did he do? Stole paintings? Did he get a life sentence for that?
No, it's a shame that such a promising book falls short due to lack of proper editing skills.


message 8: by Michael (last edited Jan 25, 2014 05:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michael T This is one book I can understand people not liking. Mainly for the prose. I personally really like it, especially the first half. When he goes to Afghanistan it loses a little.

The vibrant world he creates is magnificent. If it does not nail India down exactly... well who cares, it is a work of fiction, and just one man's opinion.

Granted he does fail to mention cricket.


Nivash dely wrote: "The reason I didn't like the book isn't what Roberts writes about India. The problem is how he writes, all the characters are flat, his alterego in the story is full of exaggerations: he knows alwa..."

And that's why he calls it fiction.


Manish Katyal Aditya wrote: "I've noticed and read many hate reviews to this book. I found this book great. I live in India and this is exactly what I find here. Any Indian who denies this is a hypocrite and any foreigner who ..."

well said.


message 11: by Siddhartha (last edited Mar 21, 2014 02:02AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Siddhartha The book presents a face of India that is a fact, undeniably so. If that reason is enough for it to be a good book then there would be no hate reviews. As a novel, it is quite pedestrian which takes itself too seriously. And the philosophy part was plain boring. Old wine in old bottle.

There are better, less condescending and more pragmatic ways one can criticize the many ills of India, and such works get a 5 star rating from me. Read P.Sainath if you will.

A novel written solely targeted at a future motion picture opportunity, on the other hand will be judged purely on its readability and other factors that apply for any fiction.


Kenneth Underhill Having written one fiction novel of some 385 pages, I have some knowledge of what it takes to craft a first book. That Roberts accomplished a story of such size and scope set in a foreign land, and does so with prose that many find masterful, is an astounding feat. I rather doubt most of the negative reviewers have put pen to paper for more than the few condescending comments hurled at Shantaram on Goodreads. If you think his writing is trite or characters flat, you might want to compare it to the drivel that consistently occupies the best seller lists.


Sagar Vibhute I loved the narrative. For all the superhero elements (and the Afghanistan plot, which stretched the book a little too far) Roberts has brought out an inherent humanity in all of his characters. There is a sense of empathy attached to all participants in the plot which I find admirable in a book and its author.


message 14: by dely (new) - rated it 1 star

dely Ken wrote: "Having written one fiction novel of some 385 pages, I have some knowledge of what it takes to craft a first book. That Roberts accomplished a story of such size and scope set in a foreign land, and..."

Your example doesn't make sense. Why should a reader want to be an aspiring writer? I like reading but I would never write a book; these are two completely different things. Every reader should be free to express his opinions also if he isn't a writer.

If you think his writing is trite or characters flat, you might want to compare it to the drivel that consistently occupies the best seller lists.

Do you want a wonderful prose? Check out Vladimir Nabokov or Sándor Márai. These are only the first ones that came to my mind but there are much more.
Do you want well defined characters? Check out the book you prefer by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


Kenneth Underhill Opinions of taste are one thing, but those of talent are another. If someone does not like this book (or a movie) because the subject matter doesn't interest them, or the violence too graphic for their tastes, I have no quibble. But to state that the author's (or director's) talents are flawed is quite insulting to the audience who do not.

I've read enough literary fiction, both classic and contemporary to recognize the difference between flawed, or generic formula writing and that which is superlative. Just as I know the difference between a movie I don't care for and one which is patently poor in every respect.

As a writer, I actually do have a better insight than a typical pulp fiction reader into what constitutes truly great skill. Shantaram is by no means perfect, but it is far and away superior to all but the rarest of best selling fiction these days. Which was my original point.


message 16: by Siddhartha (last edited Aug 06, 2014 10:31AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Siddhartha I have mentioned why i did not like Shantaram. No where have i implied that the author lacks writing skill or story telling ability. But if you have seen any Indian movies, you could easily find the script Shantaram was following, which is why i mentioned that it was written more like a film script than a novel.

No, i have not written much fiction either, but that is beside the point. You do not rate every book you read a 5/5 just because you know how tough it is to write do you ?


Kenneth Underhill Siddhartha wrote: "I have mentioned why i did not like Shantaram. No where have i implied that the author lacks writing skill or story telling ability. But if you have seen any Indian movies, you could easily find th..."

Of course not. I'm very selective in what I read, and because of that I tend to rate higher than others. If a book is of little interest to me or inferior, I just don't read it. I walk out of lousy movies too.


Siddhartha Peace!
Happy Reading!


message 19: by Fleur-de-lis (last edited Sep 12, 2014 08:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fleur-de-lis I find some of the negative comments absolutely ignorant. If this book was set in America, France, Japan, no one would have a problem. I can't stand reversed-racism...so ridiculous! If you take away the setting and the color of the characters, you are left with the main character and his spiritual awakening through tragic circumstances, both self-induced and unwarranted. THAT is all this book is about and it's BEAUTIFUL!!!


message 20: by dely (new) - rated it 1 star

dely Fleur-de-lis wrote: "I find some of the negative comments absolutely ignorant. If this book was set in America, France, Japan, no one would have a problem. I can't stand reversed-racism...so ridiculous! If you take..."

I don't understand why it is so difficult to accept that someone didn't like a book you loved. We are all so different with different tastes and we look for different things reading books.

No, even if you would change the setting I wouldn't like this book because it isn't because of the setting I didn't like it (but I already explained it). The color of the characters? Which color? They all are depicted in the same way, they seem to have the same personality. The problem is that the main character isn't believable (and I like if the story and the characters are believable). Spiritual awakening? I think you have never read something serious about spirituality.


Sagar Vibhute Aditya wrote: "I've noticed and read many hate reviews to this book. I found this book great. I live in India and this is exactly what I find here. Any Indian who denies this is a hypocrite and any foreigner who ..."

Aren't you getting a little carried away? This is almost fan-boy talk, "If you don't like my favorite musician you are an idiot now go I won't talk to you ...".

Was Gregory Roberts trying to deliver the truth? I just think he was trying to write a story, and have it appreciated. Some of us did. Other didn't. What's so difficult about this?

And please please please help me understand how this gives you a chance to indulge in India-bashing? I mean, what?


Veturi The author spent a lot of time in the places he wrote about, so there is a bit of authenticity to the book, but a lot of it is pseudo intellectual philosophical babble. In first chapter, I found it cute, the next I was like "OK, I see what you did there" and then every chapter had one philosophical quote, as if to add depth and meaning to the experience when there wasn't any. It continued all through the book, it interrupted the flow, it was forced, it does not ring true. Somewhere, the narrative got impacted too. It got more ridiculous, everyone loves everyone, all are good or bad(which is again good coz u know philosophy), Hero is good, India is great, blah blah blah.....400 pages. Done. Bored. Thankyouverymuch


Gregory I would call Shantaram one of my most transformative reads. It was an amazing book. I've lost track of how many copies I have purchased and given to friends. The depth of the story into the bowels of India, from remote villages to shit-stained prisons is nothing short of remarkable. Was a great mix of thought, experience and insight into child slavery, gold and shanty life.


message 24: by Ravi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ravi Gangwani I read it long time back. I would say I did not like it as well. India is beautifully described in it, also I live in Mumbai and he explained the same lives which I regularly see here. But problem was after around 650 pages (Or from the start of Afghanistan section), this book went too much unrealistic later. I felt cheated at the end of it. All dead characters re-appeared with some dramatic twist and turns, and chooha gang and all, what was the need of it? And I think he was just stretching the book after it.


message 25: by Kirk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kirk I liked the story and ignored some of the problems in the writing style. Once they were in Afghanistan the plot lost most of its interest for me.


message 26: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Huber I loved it for 2 reasons . Firstly, the pure escapism of it . I felt at the end that I’d watched a film epic..that feeling when you walk out of a theatre , blinking your eyes and trying to re-adjust to where you are.
Secondly , the detailed descriptions of where he was at any given moment included the smells , sounds as well as the sights. I lived in India for a while as a kid…the memories are blurred , but the sounds and smells he describes , take me right back. The part where he describes arriving in Mumbai on the train really resonated with me .
The criticisms mentioned above are all more or less valid , but because I liked the book for the reasons given , they don’t really bother me …I can still smell that smell when you arrive in India .


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