It has been a really great week. Last night I completed the longest read I have invested in, in a very long time. That book is Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.
One day I was shopping for the baby, at our local Indigo Book Sellers downtown. I was going to Cold Call the book shelves. A practice I usually employ, when I want an adventure, or as our speaker said tonight … “A little escapism…”
The Sequel to Shantaram, The Mountain Shadow, made me stop and pick it up off the shelf, because of the Hard Cover Dust Ruffle. When the word, Sequel, appeared in the bio, I was like SHIT ! Now I have to read the first book.
I put the sequel down, and picked up Shantaram.
Knowing I was going to see Mama and the baby, and knowing that I would be seriously disconnected from the world, while I was there, Shantaram was a really good choice.
Over the past year, I have been sitting in South East Asia, Viet Nam, Saigon and India. It started when I read The Sympathizer, written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. That was the best book I had read, to date, after Donna Tarrt’s The Goldfinch.
That one book, took me on a journey to South East Asia, and then led me to India. Over the course of several books, that I began to read, but put down, because I just was not connecting, Shantaram had to pass the,
“I will commit to you, but you better deliver” thought.
Shantaram delivered in spades.
At 934 pages, it took me 27 days and nights to read it cover to cover.
Writers employ many tools to get you to read their books. And to this point, I was reading stories that were very heavy with visual writing. I can only take so much “filler” in my reads. At some point, I get annoyed with a writer who wants to explain the minutiae of a certain city, town or family.
I want a story, not chapter after chapter of filler …
Gregory David Roberts, is a master story teller. Once I started the read, I had to commit to the book until the last word of the book. Robert’s writing does just that.
India is a country that is wealthy in ways that the Westerner would not necessarily see unless he/she spent ample time, living, loving and loosing like the people of India, namely those in the city of Bombay. Or any city in India really …
A westerner would not necessarily insert themselves into a slum. Why would one do that?
Lin, the main character of the story, is an escaped convict from Australia, and he escapes prison in a brazen broad daylight escape. He is aided and a bedded by friends and fellows, until he finds his way to India.
The story that unfolds is Master storytelling.
Lin, goes from escaped convict, to Bombay resident, to Bombay slum resident/doctor/ healer/friend. He gets involved with Khader Khan. That’s all I want to say about him. The Khader Khan is an incredible character. To tell you anything more about him would say too much, that I would rather have you read for yourself.
Shantaram tracks literal history. Beginning in the time when Indira Ghandi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Roberts then mentions the Bhutto family, and progresses into the war between the Afghan Mujaheddin and the Russians, when the Russians invade and occupy Afghanistan. The Afghan war is a prominent section of the story.
I found this interesting because I am well versed in India’s history, and the Afghan wars, politically, religiously and sectarian-Ly. I have, in my library, several books that I had already read, each time a name was mentioned or historical event took place on our modern time line, I was familiar with each historical event or person. Which lent to my reading of Shantaram.
I love reading. Books are life, and a life without books, is no life at all …
The Mountain Shadow comes in at 871 pages.
Shantaram ends with several open threads.
One supposed thread, during the story, as it was written, that certain people and problems were finally “put to bed,” but when I reached the last chapter, the story began to unravel, and certain situations, now remain unresolved and new threads were introduced.
Shantaram is a teaching book.
There are many lessons to be learned from Robert’s story. If you are like me, I love knowledge just as much as the act of reading. Being sober, many of the lessons and themes were pertinent to me and made sense, and gave me certain perspective on life and on people in my life.
This book is not just a story to read, but teaches us about what really matters in India, and to her people.
Most Indian’s don’t have much in the way of wealth, unless you were born into wealth, married into wealth, or earned your way out of abject poverty, and had risen out of a slum, into the wider world at large.
Slum dwellers might not have much in “material wealth,” What they DO have is Love, Respect and they are loyal people. Indians have self respect and they are dignified. Lin arrives in Bombay, and ends up meeting a titular character of the story, Prabaker.
Prabaker turns Lin with his smile, and his love. Reading what Lin learns on this journey is very important. I think this story should be required reading for everyone who seeks love, respect and dignity for all men, women and children.
I loved this book, and you will too. What will be the story of YOUR life ???