Friday, May 3, 2013

Shantaram, Man of Peace

by Pa Rock

Of the couple of thousand books that I have read during my lifetime, few have given me more pleasure than Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.   Roberts, who was sentenced to a long prison sentence in his native Australia as a young man, escaped and fled to Bombay, India, where he lived a colorful life in exile – running a free medical clinic in a large slum, and later conducting criminal activities for the local mafia.  He was eventually recaptured after a decade on the run and served out the remainder of his sentence.

Shantaram, while fiction, is obviously based on the author’s life-on-the-run while living in Bombay.  The central character, whose life closely mirrors that of the author, has enough adventures in the nine-hundred-plus pages of the novel to easily fill two or three seasons of a tightly-packed television show or a couple of very good action movies. 

The novel makes the city of Bombay come alive in a way that no tourist brochure or slick travelogue possibly could.  As a reader, I roamed the alleys and pathways of the slums where I fought fires, cholera, rats, and wild dogs. I walked the meanest streets and the most opulent avenues of the city with a cast of characters real enough to reach out and hold.  I spent time in the bowels of a prison whose stench and awfulness were almost beyond description.   I strolled the lonely beaches of Goa at sunset and climbed treacherous snow-covered mountain trails in Afghanistan with mujaheddin fighters.   I experienced unrequited love, heroin addiction and withdrawal, crime, violence, pleasure, the death of friends, the promise of birth, and the joy of a dancing bear.

The prose of this book is beautiful, delicious even, and every page is bejeweled with phrases and insights on life that beg to be lifted and incorporated into a religion.

Shantaram is a wonderful novel, and Gregory David Roberts is a wonder.   I hope that he is well – and writing.


Xobekim said...

I get the "write what you know" axiom the author mastered. It is the transparency thing thing that has me hung up.

Don said...

Nice review, Rock. I'm headed for the Amazon website right now!!