Shantaram: A Novel
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Crime and punishment, passion and loyalty, betrayal and redemption are only a few of the ingredients in Shantaram, a massive, over-the-top, mostly autobiographical novel. Shantaram is the name given Mr. Lindsay, or Linbaba, the larger-than-life hero. It means "man of God's peace," which is what the Indian people know of Lin. What they do not know is that prior to his arrival in Bombay he escaped from an Australian prison where he had begun serving a 19-year sentence. He served two years and leaped over the wall. He was imprisoned for a string of armed robberies peformed to support his heroin addiction, which started when his marriage fell apart and he lost custody of his daughter. All of that is enough for several lifetimes, but for Greg Roberts, that's only the beginning.

He arrives in Bombay with little money, an assumed name, false papers, an untellable past, and no plans for the future. Fortunately, he meets Prabaker right away, a sweet, smiling man who is a street guide. He takes to Lin immediately, eventually introducing him to his home village, where they end up living for six months. When they return to Bombay, they take up residence in a sprawling illegal slum of 25,000 people and Linbaba becomes the resident "doctor." With a prison knowledge of first aid and whatever medicines he can cadge from doing trades with the local Mafia, he sets up a practice and is regarded as heaven-sent by these poor people who have nothing but illness, rat bites, dysentery, and anemia. He also meets Karla, an enigmatic Swiss-American woman, with whom he falls in love. Theirs is a complicated relationship, and Karla?s connections are murky from the outset.

Roberts is not reluctant to wax poetic; in fact, some of his prose is downright embarrassing. Throughought the novel, however, all 944 pages of it, every single sentence rings true. He is a tough guy with a tender heart, one capable of what is judged criminal behavior, but a basically decent, intelligent man who would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially anyone he knew. He is a magnet for trouble, a soldier of fortune, a picaresque hero: the rascal who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. His story is irresistible. Stay tuned for the prequel and the sequel. --Valerie Ryan

"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

Customer Reviews:

  • Atrociously-written, self-aggrandizing garbage
    My god. What an incredible load of drivel this is. Though there is room in the world for large stories largely told, Gregory David Roberts' self-aggrandazing pseudo-autobiography teems with ludicrously bad prose, characters so flat I'd like to use them to keep water off my bathroom floor, dimwitted philosophy, and self-love. I quite literally had to stop reading from embarassment at the sex scenes ("my body was her chariot and she rode me into the sun"? ye gods), and repeatedly found myself saying, "No, actually", at Roberts' increasingly idiotic turns of simile and metaphor even outside that context.

    Absolute drek....more info
  • Shantaram
    This is an interesting story, not only written very well...but the author has done a brilliant job of captivating the readers attention. Going into not only words...but helping each of us learn a little of the cultural side of the people & places visited.....well done....hard to put down....more info
  • A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing
    It's not every day that I read a 900-page novel that is so incredibly bleak and, yet, still rates five stars.

    For all of the times Roberts philosophizes about "love", "heart" and "freedom", I'm left wondering if he is capable of laying the first few bricks of a "golden rule" foundation where he isn't such a na?ve, manipulative and miserable person. In fact, I could say the same about many of Shantaram's characters, for they are scummy, unhappy human beings.

    Having said that, I do realize that Roberts was an escapee hiding from the authorities, and that his options were few. Still, he had access to a world of money and connections in which to create a new life but chose not to. In fact, he really doesn't even try. He simply rationalizes his criminal behavior with lines about whether the crime is in the sin or the sin is in the crime, or whether he does the wrong thing for the right reason or the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

    Except for the passages where Roberts simply tries too hard when describing his recurring feelings for two female characters, Shantaram is impressively well written. The descriptions of India's people and culture are superb. What's more, Roberts keeps his foot on the accelerator and sustains Shantaram's appeal through the entire book, which is quite an accomplishment.

    But I wish Roberts would learn from his mistakes and take his friend Vikram's advice about settling down, finding a woman, earning her respect and getting married. Vikram says: "You're a man. That's what a man has to do...but it's kind of sad that you don't know that already."
    ...more info
  • Shantarom Review
    This is the type of book that is difficult to put down. With 933 pages of fine print I usually avoid this type of book because of poor eye sight. I devoured the story with a magnifying glass and it is very well written and easy to follow. The story is quite factual yet written as a novel. While the main character is quite a villain one can't help being on his side all of the way. Wonderful entertainment....more info
    It seems to me that most of the negative reviews here pontificate on the morality of the author and make judgments based on the same. As a person with a rich and colorful life, full of success and failure, and as a human who has their share of mistakes, I look at the author with no sense of moral righteousness. While his prose can tend towards the flowery, I forgive the author for taking creative license with his incredible life story. I loved it.

    The objections I've noted are all based on a "that's not what I would do" sense of morality, and completely miss the point. Not seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.

    I've lived a wonderful life (that fascinates most everyone who knows me well, but pales compared to this story), and can quite comfortably say that this is one of the best stories I have ever read (and I read a lot). If you can't learn SOMETHING from this, you haven't lived or are not capable of self contemplation. Period....more info
  • In a class with East of Eden
    Another reviewer suggested that this is of a quality only seen every five years or so. I would go so far as to say that in 45 years of reading only one book comes to mind that might outrank this book as a piece of literature. That would be John Steinbeck's East of Eden. It's a different story from a different voice, but the quality of the prose, the continuity of the story, the depth of insight into what it means to be a human being, and presentation of ethical and moral dilemmas is simply incomparable. I have bought over a dozen copies and given them to people whom I treasure for no better reason than the joy of experiencing this book was just too good to hold to myself. So far I have read it three times in two years. There will always be two copies in my house. One to loan, knowing I won't get it back, and one to read when I need to be reassured that life is to be felt from the core. ...more info
  • Art, Life, Philosophy, and Poetry in . . . .
    Art, philosophy, life, and poetry are blended together in delightful combination in Shantaram. It should be requireding read for all human beings. You'll walk away provoked, touched, and feeling that the author is up to something important, something big. It's writing at its best, and Gregory Roberts is an artist of words and an insightful, deep thinker.
    ...more info
  • One of the greatest books I've ever read.
    This book is fantastic. I wish it had a sequal!. This is a must read....more info
  • Mozart had the same problem
    Finally, purchased and read it while up in Thailand last year. It came well recommended and the reviews here seem utterly uncritical, so it falls to me ... etcetera.
    The book works often, and the man certainly does hit a stride in many places, however it needs to be said that he over writes (like Peter Carey does..) some fabric of the book, and at other times the narrative disintergrates into a clearly two dimensional construct; characters can be wooden at times, and situations also (wild dog pack attack outside the slum) sometimes seem simplistic and unlikely. While I enjoyed the bulk of the book, I did think it could have been edited severely and would have benefited from a less is more approach. Florid at times, hackneyed at times, and sometimes just cartoonish. Never the less, I admire the story telling here, and feel the book deserves it's reputation. Whether it really is actual fact, or just very loosly based on the authors experiences, should be judged as part of the readers overall appreciation of the work....more info
  • Book is great, but most of the 2 star reviews are accurate
    Personally I liked it, although I agree with the majority of the 2 star reviews. I gave it 4 stars because I thought it was entertaining to read - although the first 200 and last 100 pages were a bit winded. ...more info
  • a rare jewel
    Shantaram is a rare find. It is the kind of book you are always searching for and almost never find. A friend gave me this book and I tell everyone I know to read it. It is captivating, beautifully descriptive, moving.....I could go on and on. The author speaks to the heart of the human condition. I could not put this book down but I was sad when I finished it, I missed the world he had lived and re-lived on paper. I probably will not find another book of this caliber for a long time...more info
  • shantaram
    A love story in the wide sense of the word! Incredibly moving story where the "bad" guys are the good guys, a story of bravery beyond belief......more info
  • Shantaram
    I didn't like this book. I bought it because I love stories about India. It's more my fault than the author. Very well written, but the story left me empty....more info
  • Shantaram
    Spectacularly well written with insights into life in India and insights into life for all of us. What a story!...more info
  • So You Want to Be A Mumbai Expert?
    This book is worth reading but unfortunately I can't say it's a classic. The main character's transformation begins and then stalls and then ends up completely unconvincing. I loved the first half of the book; the sights and smells and sounds of Colaba Causeway and Leopold's and Sassoon Dock and the zhodapatty alone make picking up this book worthwhile. And the way he sets the stage for the second half of the book is very compelling. But then the plot disintegrates into a mishmash of violence and male bonding and gangster fitness. I'm going to tell my wife, who is half-Indian and loves to read books about modern day India, especially ones that involve cross-cultural figures like Lin, that this thing is way too violent. On the other hand, if you think you're an expert on India after watching Slumdog Millionaire, you're going to love this book....more info
  • One of the best books I ever read
    Shantaram is simply one of the best books I ever read. I have never read a 900 plus page book faster. It is an epic book whose imagery places you in the slums, opulence and everyplace else that makes up Mumbai. It is a philosophy book, it is an adventure book, it is a book of some of the most well developed and interesting characters you will ever meet. And, it is one of the most beautiful uses of the English language you will ever read. ...more info
  • An epic novel!
    'IT TOOK ME a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.'

    And so begins Shantaram, an epic novel and one of the best written pieces of work I have ever had the pleasure to read.

    I won't synopsize. I will just say that the story is incredible, and mostly true I understand. The characters leap off the page and grab your heart. From Prabaker, the sweet man who befriends Lin and becomes his guide, to the Standing Baba's that open chapter 8, you are invested. In this story and in these people, all of us live. We all know Karla, the woman a man can easily fall for and never get to know. She is hauntingly exquisite. The scenes the author paints, from sliding in and out of consciousness (in an opium den, or in a prison), to the scenery (whether in Afghanistan, or in a crowded slum) place you right there, and the journey you take with Roberts is exhilarating.

    It is a long read, and had it been published here in this country it would be half as long. We'd be half as blessed....more info
  • Shantaram is the tits
    I'm a reader, not a writer so excuse me. This is a top book.
    Read it and behold a great tale told greatly.

    If you don't like it, suck it!...more info
  • Overstuffed mess
    Shantaram is an ambitious novel. Unfortunately, Gregory David Roberts' 900+ pages of ambition suffers from a lack of competent editing, or perhaps from no editing at all. To be sure, there are sections of the book that are engaging and fascinating, such as those that describe Lin's (the protagonist) experiences as a Bombay slum doctor or his visits to the Standing Babas and his friend Prubaker's village. But there are an equal number of dull, repetitive and poorly written passages. Roberts' tendency to describe what every female character is wearing in every scene is mind-numbing, as is his tendency to write about the femme fatale's black hair and green eyes ad nauseam. ("Tall plants as green as Karla's eyes whirled and shuddered in the wind all around us.") The dialogue is often forced and unnatural; supposedly meaningful conversations between Lin and Karla are plain laughable. Long stretches that explain a major character's philosophy are excruciating and rehashed several times. Numerous and implausible fight scenes starring Lin (the author?) left me exasperated. Unnecessary background information is presented and soon forgotten as it is becomes impossible to keep track of the many shallowly developed secondary and tertiary characters (although even most of the main characters display a lack of depth). In short, at half the length this could have been a real page turner. As it stands it's a rather frustrating, overstuffed mess....more info
  • A Literary Masterpiece
    Best prose I've ever seen from an ex prisoner. Raises the big questions in philosophy in the context of a gripping story layered with literary flourishes. I couldn't put it down and read all 936 pages in less than 2 weeks.

    Shaun Attwood ...more info
  • Life in Mumbai, India
    I was a little hesitant when I first picked up this book because of its thickness, but I'm glad I did. Gregory David Roberts has this amazing way of describing things through words. He made me fall in love with Mumbai, India; which is where this book was set.

    This book is about his life in India. Most of it is based on actual events, however some of it was fabricated for entertainment purposes. The story is about his life in India, and his life in the organised crime business.

    The most intriguing part of this book for me was the love story that developed between him and a particular woman. Roberts has a lot of quirky remarks about life, love, and relationships that I loved. ...more info
  • The only book
    I have never been so moved to laugh out loud and shed tears by a book. EVER...this is an amazing book. I couldn't put it down until it was done and read....more info
  • Great story, shame about the writing
    I'm halfway through Shantaram and I am enjoying it - it helps that I'm actually travelling through India while reading it. However, every so often, I have to put it down to digest prose that is so purple, I'm caught between nausea and the giggles.

    It's a shame, as the story itself is so compelling and exciting (even though occasionally it seems to be just a series of vignettes); it could have benefited from sparse, stark writing. So an average of three stars from me - for a five star read on India, I'd suggest the White Tiger....more info
  • Utterly Beautiful
    The best book I've read in my life. So many books I read and get disinterested, every time the book slowed down a bit it instantly turned a new corner and peaked curiosity into another unexpected situation. The way it was written is magnificent. Very descriptive of all the characters and emotions at any given second. This is how raw human emotion can translate into a book by captivating the reader, making them laugh and make the reader shed tears. The most revealing aspect for me was how quickly I managed to go through 930+ pages. Get the hardcover and throw away the paper flap, it looks classier that way. :)

    I can't wait for the film.. I actually think Johnny Depp and Amitah Buchin (sp?) will be fantastic....more info
  • This book has the power to change our planet, for the better
    I have never read any novel that can at all, and in any way compare with the raw, soulwrenching, sheer power, grace, and glory of this so called "novel" Shantaram. Brothers Karamazov comes closest, but I think what Gregory Roberts has given us is a book that will in time, i truly believe, become the greatest piece of literature ever put to press. It is so much more than just a book! As I tell my surprised, skeptical friends: "It is my Bible"....more info
  • Wow!!
    I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a man, who after his marriage falls apart turns to a life of drugs and crime only to end up in a New Zeland prison. After he escapes from the prison, he finds his way to India where he meets some extraordinary people, sets up a medical clinic in the slum where he lives, and eventually works for the mafia. The vast majority of the novel occurs in India, with the New Zealand history revealed in flashbacks. The characters are vivid, and you both love and hate the lead character. I got hooked on this book from the first sentence, and loved it until the end almost 1000 pages later.

    Word is that Johnny Depp is planning on making this into a movie, but it's been delayed due to some other projects. ...more info
  • Extraordinary novel
    Roberts writes like a god; the story is autobiographical, philosophical. Beginning with an escape from prison, the saga takes one into modern day India and from thence to Afghanistan. Our hero describes the different lives he led with the delicacy of a surgeon and the spiritual evolvement of a highly-evolved soul. Falling in love at first sight, the hero is led into a byzantine mist of cultural contradictions, crime and war. The issue of moral proximity is examined from every angle. Roberts is candid about how he fell from grace and how, in the end he found release from the demons that possessed him. I could not put it down and the story haunts me still. ...more info
  • The best book I've ever read
    I started reading Shantaram without knowing exactly what to expect. Once I started, I literally could not put the book down. You really live through his stories. It is an unbelievable book that is without question the best book I've ever read. It is a great book for a long plane ride, as it is hard to put down. ...more info
  • See, smell, taste, explore Bombay
    I loved the detailed feel of this book - it felt really authentic. I loved the character of Prabakar - he really made the book for me. I could hear his voice and see his head waggle as he talked.
    Really an amazing story. I kept flipping to the back cover to read that this was based on his true experiences. It's really unbelievable at times!
    Enjoyable read....more info