November 13, 2012

India The Dreamland: Thoughts on Gregory David Roberts Novel: Shantaram

It's rare that so many different people from a variety of facets of your life all recommend the same book. Granted, talking about books outside of book club (Hollywood Book Club represent) is not common, but when car-pool buddies, co-workers, hippie meditating dudes who work at spiritual bookstores, random travelers in Costa Rica, and even trusted friends all recommend a book you gotta pay attention. If you couldn't guess by the title/picture to the left, that book was Gregory David Roberts 936 page epic Indian tale; Shantaram, which after a two year odyssey of false starts, throw-aways, and diversions I have just finished.

Simply put, the novel is sprawling epic that while highly memorable but also plagued with contradictions. Roberts as a writer is adept a writing an engaging story with memorable characters, but his style, full of observations about every situation grows irritating over time. I know that sounds kind of confusing, but just take a look at the first line of the whole book.

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.
Phrases like this are the backbone of the book. There is a philosophical musing combined with some "thug life" observation. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The novel's protagonist, Lin, the Roberts substitute will stab some gangsters and then say some nonsense like "The knife is just God's way of a reminding us that we're all made from the same material." All these observations also fit into the general theme of everyone in the story casually being awesomely stoned all the time. Maybe that's how they did it in India in the 80s or maybe Roberts knows his audience and he is giving them what they want, I suspect it's a combination of both.

But actually that's pretty much my only gripe with this story. It's much more violent and exciting than I thought it would be. Don't let the gold-tinged cover fool you, this is an epic crime novel more than anything else. The characters from the all powerful mafia boss Khan to the lowliest slum dwellers all seem to pop off the page and the novel makes Bombay sound so damn exciting, I really wanna go there.

So am I recommending it? Yes, I am, it's not as mind-blowingly awesome as the hype but it's still exciting, just be ready to tackle all 936 pages. If that page count is intimidating to you, I recommend the equally mystical Rule of the Bone: Novel, a (Google Affiliate Ad). But if you're up to get transported to  Bombay and all the grime, love, and excitement, yar, I'd grab a copy of it today.

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