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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Gregory David Roberts - Shantaram

review by showhost
I am so grateful to Helen Pearce for giving me this book to read.  It became more amazing when I realised that it was a true story.  How this man survived to tell his tale I will never know - he must be extremely determined and very lucky.  I am also glad that I didn't see the intro about his life since writing the book as I think it would have spoilt it, that should have come at the end of the book.

The author was born in Melbourne in 1952 but by the 1980's he had turned to Heroin and armed robbery to feed his habit.  He was imprisoned in Australia hwere the guards as well as the prisoners were brutal. 'When the going gets tough the tough get going' (as the song goes) and thats exactly what he did.  He escaped from prison, knowing that as a wanted man on the run, he would never be able to return to Australia to see his family again.

After several destinations and alias's he ended up in Bombay where he was known as 'Lin'.  He fell in love and won the hearts of the 'real people' of Bombay, living in the slums where he established a free health clinic for them and fought side by side with them against cholera and fire.  He joined the mafia working as a money launderer & forger and listened in awe to the wisdom of the council of Khaderbai.  He learnt their language (Hindi & Marathi) which endeared him to them even more.  He was beaten nearly to death in jail, acted in a Bollywood movie and joined the Mujahedeen to fight and tale food and arms to Afghanistan.

I have never known anyone do so much or have so much happen to them and yet survive.  Nearly every chapter had an incident, something to keep your attention, which when you consider it is nearly a 1000 pages that is quite some feat.  He describes the people and India so well that you are transported there when reading.  I think it shows how immersed I was in his story when I got really angry with him when he succumbed to shooting heroin again, a habit he'd managed to kick,  in a locked room  for 3 months.  I was angry that someone who'd been so strong could be so weak, knowing what it would do to him!
It was a truly absorbing, magnificent adventure story, one that will stay with me for a long time, as well as some of his characters - Probaker and Didier.  But the only one tiny, tiny little question mark was that I didn't know how it ended - what his choice was...?
I loved reading some of the 'philosophy' :-
"always a fools mistake to be alone with someone you shouldn't have loved"
"everyone in the whole world was Indian in at least one past life"
"politicians will sell you a bridge even though there is no river".
A true fact - 'amazingly he wrote this novel 3 times after prison guards trashed the first 2 versions'!
Its an epic adventure with love, friendship, betrayal, revenge, loss, redemption and politics.
Read it!  But leave the 'foreward' until the end!
ps it will make a brilliant film

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