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 ???
When an immigrant relocates from their country of origin, to find safety, a new home, prosperity, and a better life, we carry with us, all of who we are, all of our collective experiences, religious traditions, beliefs, practices and ways of life.
Being an immigrant myself, coming to Canada from The United States, it took me several years to find my way into this country. I experienced certain culture shock in the ways Canadians saw the rest of the world. As the run up to a war had begun, and people were marching in the streets, it was suggested to me that I sew Canadian flags on my backpack, as to not get picked out in a crowd, I did so, tentatively.
Marching in the streets was something I would learn, we do, for things we thought were important, and if changes needed to be made. But more to that point, I came from a country that bore me, taught me, educated me in all things “American,” those thing my parents thought sacrosanct. And when I moved here, they branded me a traitor to my country and a traitor to my family heritage.
What they failed to realize, in their anger, that Canada WAS and IS a part of my heritage, even if my father worked very hard at eradicating it from my mother’s life.
We see today, immigrants who come to Canada, come for many reasons.
- Fleeing war zones
- To find a home
- And a Better life
Students come, they get their education, and most return to their home countries to put to good use what they learned here. They come with who they are, they learn who we are, they become part of what ever city they go to to study, and all that additional knowledge they gain, where they are, is treasure that goes back with them home.
When am immigrant comes to a new country to live, a forever life, the first word they hear, HERE, is welcome. The word whispered over their shoulder is, ASSIMILATION.
Coming from where you are to wherever you are going, the expectation is that as you get used to where you are, you will become, PART OF. That means traditionally, ethnically, religiously, and familial.
When I came here, I was an Anglo, in a French Province. I knew, when I got here, that I would have to find my way into community. Learning a foreign language, on the ground, takes in excess of ten years, from start to assimilation. I did that when I was a child, when Cubans began coming to Florida by the boatload over years and years. I was immersed in a foreign language every day for the whole of my life, well into my adult years.
Spanish was spoken ALL OVER. In every area of my life, and I flourished in Spanish. But I found, HERE, that I did study French for many years, but rarely used it save for public transit and at school. I live in Anglo Montreal, and my usage of French is negligible.
The United States was built on the backs of the immigrant class, the United States would not be who she is today without them. And sadly, in the last fifty years, we all know how Americans and their government see, treat, and expect from immigrants who now show up on her shores.
You ASSIMILATE. You come here, we give you green cards, you earn your way in, you become citizens after your trials and tribulations, then we respect you, because now you are one of us. But if you are Muslim, God help you.
The United States has no room or appetite for Muslims, whatsoever.
So goes that way for immigrants that come from many places to the United States.
The Sympathizer, takes place, post Viet Nam War. The narrator of the story and his compatriots are from the East. The book opens with a confession being written, but you don’t know why it is being written, and for what reason.
This read, is complicated, because the reader either chooses to get involved with the narrator and to ride the book, to its bitter end. I did not think about this fact until I finished the book last night, which is why I opened this review in the way I did.
This book, comes with stellar reviews across the board, and is a national best seller, which is why I bought it. Because I love books. And I really love Good Books.
The Sympathizer did not disappoint. I bought it, hook, line and sinker.
The writer tells us the story of immigrants who come to the United States after the Viet Nam war, hoping to find a home away from home, but in the same breath, long to return to their homeland to rid their country of the communists, and return their world to what it was before war tore apart their country and their people.
I know what happened when my father returned from that war, and what that war did to him in many ways. And I carry vestiges of that horror in my story.
In the end, the writer weaves an intricate story of war, loss, love, desire, and the love a people have for their homeland. And we see, just how America treats those who came after the war, what they expected of them as transplants, and how, in the underbelly of many nations, that love it or leave it mentality.
Along with assimilation, most immigrants try very hard to fit in, all the while, trying to find others, other immigrants, like themselves, where they can join in a community and become part of, not only of America, but part of an ethnic or national community that they identify with and were part of, where they came from originally.
That same hope is the same hope immigrants have when they come to Canada. What is good about Canada, is that we welcome all. In every city, country wide, you will find ethnic communities far and wide. So that really is not as difficult to do here, than it is in the United States.
The narrator of the story is a mole, who moves to Los Angeles after the war, with those he helped survive after the fall of Saigon. A group of ex-military men have moved along with him. Back East, Man, the man our narrator has been friends with since childhood, is the receiver, of our narrators coded notes, informing him of just what these ex-military men are up to.
The ex-military men want to raise money, and soldiers to return to Viet Nam to fight the communists, and take back their country. Our narrator finds himself in the position to involve himself in these activities, to save his best friend from being killed in this hopeful assault on all that is communist.
Man, tells him to stay where he is and to NOT return.
The narrator goes anyway, because he must save his friend.
Here is where I had my HOLY SHIT BATMAN reaction.
What our narrator finds on the other end of a long Pacific flight, is frightening.
I was totally shocked, but not before our Captain (read:Narrator) is emasculated by the General who literally spits in his face, prior to boarding his final flight.
The story unfolds over 307 pages. On page 308, we find out why that confession is being written. And what happens to a group of hopeful military men who go country hopping into the Mekong Delta.
READ THIS BOOK … Fantastic. Fabulously Written.