(4.5 out of 5)
"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. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
And so Shantaram begins. The novel is told by Lin, an escaped convict of a maximum security prison in Australia, who runs off to India with a fake passport and starts a new life in Bombay. With the help of his guide Prabakar, Lin quickly becomes a Bombay local, living in the slums and even running a free clinic. Lin later becomes incorporated into the Indian mafia through his relationship with its leader, Khader Khan. If that’s not enough plot for you, here’s the kicker: the book is based loosely on the life of its author. ….Yes, my thoughts exactly!
(back cover of Shantaram)
On to my review - There are two words that come to mind when I think of Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram. The first is “epic”. Shantaram is a truly epic novel that incorporates a multitude of themes - love, friendship, family, freedom, death, philosophy, war, drugs, violence… and there’s more, believe me, there’s more. It’s strange, I feel like many years have passed since I started Shantaram. I started aging with the characters and the author’s passage of time became my own. Relationships were started and ended, friends were made and lost, money - the same, fights began, riots began, people were hurt, people fell in love, and the world kept on turning.
The second word that comes to my mind is “India”. A pure, unadulterated love of India. The way Roberts’ describes Bombay - from the slums to the markets, the people, the culture, the dancing and singing, the mannerisms, the many languages - it is clear that he is in love with the city. And how easily he seduces readers to feel the same!
I loved the book, please don’t be scared away by its size. Those 900 pages go by much faster than you would expect!
“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”
“One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”
“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.”
And my favorite in the book:
“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said. ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men - it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone - the noblest man alive or the most wicked - has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”