Gregory David Roberts’ ‘Shantaram’ A cure for insomnia

‘Shantaram’ at one point was the ‘it’ novel that everyone wanted to read as it was supposedly life-changing, terribly insightful and a great read.

But its large size always daunted me and instead I used it as an uncomfortable pillow on a road trip which doubled into an ankle relaxing stool. Thanks to a delayed flight I had no choice but to get down to it.

‘Shantaram’ is the fictionalized account of the real life adventures of author Gregory David Roberts. The narrator is a man called Lin, who escapes from an Australian jail and arrives in Bombay, with a fake New Zealand passport.

He meets a taxi driver named Prabaker, who helps him tour the city, the slum and even helps him acquire a hut in the slum. Being a do-gooder Lin helps the slum by setting up a free clinic and by applying basic first aid to patients he helps them more than the local corrupt government hospitals.

But Lin isn’t a complete saint and to make money he sells drugs to tourists which garners him attention from local gangsters.

In ‘Shantaram’ which is his Marathi name, Lin falls in love, nearly dies in an Indian prison and even goes to war in Afghanistan. Sounds like a Bollywood film doesn’t it? The fact that he does it all- even appearing in a Bollywood film- made the story a bit farfetched and slightly unbelievable for me.

There are also many memorable and cheesy metaphors in the novel that made me laugh. His love-making with Karla was described as:  ”My body was her chariot, and she drove it into the sun. Her body was my river, and I became the sea’ ‘which sounded like a quote from a Harlequin romance.

However the powerful philosophies Lin churns out like ‘the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life’ make the book a somewhat worthwhile read if you like being preached at.

Sadly Roberts did occasionally bore me with his trivial writing especially when describing characters and giving them stereotypical, annoying 1 physical characteristic like Karla’s green eyes, Vikram’s cowboy hat, Khader’s yellow eyes and Prabaker’s big smile.

Unfortunately it didn’t change my life, or give me insight into life’s intricate problems nor did it produce many ‘AHA’ moments but before the fans guillotine me I will say that In the end it was an interesting and entertaining read but It took me longer than a weekend to read and it did drag every now and then-which is when I used the novel to squash bugs.


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