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What We’re Reading: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

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26349 Pan_Shanataram_cov.inddWe are delighted to have Ellen Bregman share her thoughts for this month’s What We’re Reading.   Ellen is a writer in Matt Debenham’s Thursday Intermediate Fiction workshop:

Shantaramby Gregory David Roberts

When a friend lent me Shantaram, I was skeptical.  Three inches thick and 936 pages long, it looked as heavy and dull as a phonebook.  

Gregory David Roberts, an ex-junkie and ex-con, was a first- time author.  The book cover boasted: “The most astonishing adventure story you will ever read.”   

Shantaram did not disappoint: poetic and epic in scope, it’s a five- part saga of fast-paced fun. East meets West as multi-national sensibilities collide.Based on Roberts’s life, it begins when Lin, a heroin addict, escapes from an Australian prison and makes his way to Bombay.  He hides in a rat-infested slum and opens a medical clinic.  He enters Bombay’s seedy underworld of beggars, gangsters, prostitutes and holy men. Robbed, tortured, and repeatedly betrayed, he becomes a counterfeiter, smuggler, and gunrunner for the Bombay mafia.

Roberts insists Shantaram is fiction, but it reads like a memoir.  The author spent ten years on the run as Australia’s most-wanted man.  The descriptions are vivid, and the characters are credible. Lin, the narrator, is compassionate, introspective and likeable.  His credo?  Be true to love, in all its forms and degrees, wherever you find it.  

An international bestseller, Shantaram was first published in Australia and New Zealand in 2003.  A sequel (The Mountain Shadow) and a prequel are now in the works.  

Fasten your seatbelt:  despite some clichés and overwriting, Lin’s journey is a rollicking, page-turning ride.  

~  Ellen Bregman

 
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