Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

«The International Bestseller», the front cover proclaims. That always makes me slightly wary. Well, Shantaram actually turned out to be the most fanatastic book. It’s certainly the best book I’ve read by an author new to me since Never Let Me Go. I know a few people have issues with the autobiographical aspect, especially as regards the criminal subject matter, but it didn’t bother me at all. I read it as fiction, and thus as truth. Not as in «this actually happened this way» truth – that would be non-fiction, but as in «this could happen in this way» truth, which is quite frequently much better at making you feel what you are reading (well, making me feel it, anyway).

Despite its 900-odd pages, reading Shantaram was in no way a chore. As far as life has recently allowed, I basically tore though it. Except when I got about 60 pages from the end and seriously considered putting it down and not finishing. Not because it was bad, mind you, but because it was so good I wanted to stay with the feeling of not having finished it for a while. In the end I decided I was being silly and finished, but it says something about how involved I got. I also wanted to start right back on page one when I finished the last page, which puts it up there with only ten or so other books.

One fundamentally annoying thing about my copy – which I borrowed from my dad, though he might not get it back… – is a quote from Time Out on the back which subs for a synopsis by the publishers. It includes the line: «Amazingly Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions.» It made me think he had to end up in prison towards the end of the book somehow. He doesn’t. I don’t know when those first two drafts were trashed, but it’s not part of the present version. A spoiler on the cover would be bad enough (actually, the rest of the quote contains several spoilers), but a false spoiler? Seriously bad form.

I have seen complaints that Roberts’ language varies from the divine to cliché. Well, I noticed the former but not the latter, so I’ll stick to praising his turn of phrase myself. My (dad’s) copy is currently littered with post it markers to mark outstanding passages, but the whole thing read beautifully to my ears. I’ll leave you with a quote, and an admonition: Go read the book!

Now you will see the really city. Usually, I am never taking the tourists to these places. They are not liking it, and I am not liking their not liking. Or maybe sometimes they are liking it too much, in these places, and I am liking that even less, isn’t it? You must have it a good heads, to like these things, and you must be having a good hearts, to not like them too much.

— Prabaker