Review – Shantaram; Gregory David Roberts; Abacus; pp 936
By Susan Thomas
A page-turning thriller on the semi-autobiographical life of an Australian bank robber who escape prison to the slums and criminal underworld of Bombay.
Once exposed to the dichotomies and varying nuances of the Indian culture, he fully embraces his new way of life, not simply for survival reasons, but due to his utmost appreciation of India’s warm hospitality, polyglot culture and the amusing disposition of its people. He studies Marathi, Hindi and Urdu, sets up a free clinic in the slums and is bestowed with the name “Shantaram” (meaning man of God’s peace) or “Linbaba” in other circles.
To say that Linbaba is a raging daredevil or attracted to violence and brutality would be an understatement. He joins the Bombay mafia in passport forgery, illegal foreign currency trading and weapons/arms trade. His additional stints include 4 months in prison in Bombay, fighting with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and at the end, an offer to fight with the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In a morbid fashion, he diligently maintains the mafia’s honour code of truth and courage i.e. no engaging in prostitution or pornography.
After ploughing through 900 pages of Bombay slum life and the Indian criminal world through the eyes of an Australian convict, what I found disturbing was not the gore or violence, but the Linbaba’s perpetual philosophical debating of good versus evil and his contradictory actions. His actions swing from avenging a former Bombay Madam to dancing in Bollywood flicks to negotiating freedom for fellow inmates at the Arthur Road prison.
His poetic expressions and very accurate observations about India and its people seem completely uncanny for a man who solely lives by his wits. Nevertheless, Shantaram was an engaging read with intriguing plots and meaningful characters, which initially started off as Dominique Lapierre’s “City of Joy” and ended up being a combination of Vikas Swarup’s “Q & A” and Mira Nair”s movie “Salaam Bombay”.
Verdict: Amchi Mumbai Hurray! Definitely a page-turner. Full of emotions and heart-touching real-life incidents. Great read.
Susan Thomas is an avid reader and traveller. She works at one of Canada’s largest banks, which helps fund her many whims and voyages.