This is a huge book, both in terms of number of pages and popularity. Almost everyone seems to have read it, and it’s also being made into a film. It deals with the true story of Gregory David Roberts/Lin, who goes to Bombay/Mumbai while he’s on the run from prison in Australia and ends up living in a slum and then gets caught up in some other stuff with the Bombay mafia, and then some other stuff happens and some other stuff happens during the rest of the story. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, or at least not more than is on the back cover of the book.

It’s collosal in scope – it deals with crime, guilt, redemption, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, revenge, love, death, drug addiction, poverty, disease, ingenuity, torture, religion… fuck it, everything is in there. And it’s even more impressive when you consider that Roberts apparently wrote it twice while in prison and had the drafts stolen and ripped up (after the events described in the book, he was arrested and imprisoned for the crimes he’d been originally sent to prison for).

And it is good. Maybe it isn’t as good as a lot of people say – but a lot of people say it’s one of the best things they’ve read. But Roberts has a real gift for describing people – and that’s what the book is about, the people he knew – and does a decent job of describing the action that he saw and what he heard about. On ocassions, it can all be a bit overwraught and the prose can tend towards the purple in places, but that didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment. Sometimes, too, Lin is spectacularly naive, especially as he’s supposed to be a convicted criminal on the run after a few years in prison, but as it’s a true story, we’ll take Roberts at his word that he really didn’t see some things coming.

I was going to say something here about how I heard that Johnny Depp was being cast as the main character and how wrong that was, but it’s not relevant, so I won’t get into it. Should be Russell Crowe, obviously.

See also:

Hari Kunzru The Impressionist – about India and foreigness, although it’s not as long.

The Darjeeling Limited – I actually have no idea how similar this might be, as I haven’t watched it.


1 thought on “Shantaram”

  1. Sounds like an intriguing book.

    Another set-in-Mumbai book is Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance”. Possibly the most depressing book i’ve ever read, but a real insight into the horrors of developing India in the 80s.

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