Aug 4, 2011

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

There are only so many epiphanies one man can have before one begins to wonder why none of them have stuck...Such is the case with Roberts' main character, the first person narrator named Lin. Shantaram is based on Roberts' own experience as a heroin addict, escaped convict, and mafia don in Bombay. This is remarkable and and of itself, and the story is simply too fascinating to put down.

This is a first novel, though Roberts spent many years, most of them in prison finishing his sentence, to complete it, and yet it still reads like a first novel. The writing is good, quite good, but it's a little over the top, a little too extravagantly descriptive. The people and culture within the novel make it worth the read, but the eponymous protagonist becomes a tad annoying after a while. Every single chapter - out of 933 pages - ends with major soul searching and another lesson learned by Lin...who never seems to actually get the lesson through his thick skull and has to have the same epiphany again, over and over. It gets old.

What pulls the book up by its bootstraps is the love Roberts clearly has for India and her people. One hopes that we will all someday find that place that so exquisitely feels like home as Roberts describes his Bombay. Shantaram is worth the read for that sake alone, but I doubt I'd be interested in anything Roberts writes in the future.

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