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Shantaram

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Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts

 

I'm having problems writing a review of this book. The blurb starts 'In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum'. It goes on to outline the heroic escapades that he experiences along the way (money launderer, Bollywood actor, forger, free health clinic doctor, fighter of the Mujahedeen, imprisonment and torture. This guy is superhuman...). The schtick of the book suggests that while this is fiction, a lot of the events actually happened.

 

My problem really is one that I commonly have, it's a 933 page epic which starts really well with the 'hero' falling in love with the city, the Indian people and a lady but soon loses its way. Stuff happens, things go wrong, hence he ends up in the slum. So far so good. Then he falls under the spell of a Mafia-style don and it all gets ridiculous. And there is sooooooo much new-age half-baked psychology and soul searching. The don is the father he never had, all the characters quote words of wisdom from other characters, agonies of soul searching for bad deeds... Tedious stuff.

 

I enjoyed the first third, the second third was fine, but I skipped large chunks of the final third without losing any of the story. Because that's the real problem: there is no story. This a fictionalised biography, so there is no story, no start-middle-end, although it tries hard. Maybe this book should be read by those who were so upset when they found out that some of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. It illustrates what happens when the illusion of reality is sacrificed. I'd like to hear if anyone else has read this book and what they made of it. The Amazon reviews are polarised between 'life changing prose' and 'harmless tosh'. I err towards the latter.

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I've thought a lot about picking this book up, but never have, and don't think I will. I've discovered that most of the people who like this book either have pro-drug attitudes or are readers of fairly simplistic novels. I'm intrigued by the glimpse it offers into India, but I don't want to compromise on writing quality, which I have a funny feeling this book does. At 900+ pages, I'm not willing to take the risk. I've read other light reads in a similar vein to this, with either a cultural or historical focus: James Clavell I won't touch anymore because of the length; Patrick O'Brian I'll still read because they're pretty short. I guess, when it comes to these kinds of stories, size does matter. Interestingly, I had never heard of the term 'purple prose' until I started doing research on this book.

 

However, I'll probably see the movie, starring Johnny Depp. This is one case where I'll see the movie first. Who knows, maybe I'll even change my mind about reading the book after seeing the movie.

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I'm intrigued by the glimpse it offers into India, but I don't want to compromise on writing quality, which I have a funny feeling this book does. At 900+ pages, I'm not willing to take the risk.

A wise decision made for the right reasons. The book reads like an amateurish biography but has pretensions of great literacy. The first third gives the greatest insight into Indian life, but there are many better books if that's what you're looking for.

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Hmmm......interesting.

I'm in the last thrid of this book at the moment and I'm losing the will to be honest. Which I find a real shame as the previous 2 thirds were great. It's enlightening to read this thread and find that I'm not alone. Thanks Jen.

 

I shall perservere but there are more books calling me and their shouts are getting louder.

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I know this thread hasn't been replied to for some time, but I saw it here and just had to add my 2 cents worth...

 

It amazes me how often I see people reading this book on the Tube, and out of interest I picked it up in Waterstones the other day and noticed that it is on something like its 17th reprint.

 

I have read Shantaram and loved it, to be honest. Yes, I do agree that there are pretensions of literary greatness that are not supported by the quality of the writing (Roberts is certainly no Hemingway), but the story does have a scope which makes it feel epic, and Roberts clearly loves India. That's it really: I would recommend this book as the perfect hoiday read, engaging but not requiring too much concentration!

 

LV

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It amazes me how often I see people reading this book on the Tube, and out of interest I picked it up in Waterstones the other day and noticed that it is on something like its 17th reprint.
Just out of interest, is there a particular "type" who you see reading it? I imagine it as a word of mouth hit amongst back-packer types.

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It was suggested for our RL book group this week, by a nearing-sixty-year-old primary head teacher/Anglican clergywoman...

 

 

Though to be fair, she had been given it as a Christmas present by her tweny-something younger son, and has yet to read it.

:P

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