Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: Book Review

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts Book Cover

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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts Book Cover
3 Stars

Title: Shantaram
Author: Gregory David Roberts
Series: Shantaram #1
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback

Lin Ford escaped from prison in Australia by climbing straight over the front wall. He eventually finds himself in Bombay, living a life full of many twists and turns. He earns money by helping tourists connect with the black market services they’re looking for. He eventually finds himself living in a slum. He befriends a mob boss. He goes to war. He falls in love. He truly lives his life.

My Review:

I’m having the hardest time writing this review! I’ve scrapped it once already. Ack!

It took me about seven weeks to read Shantaram, mostly because I was busy and didn’t have much time to devote to it. I think having that much time to think about what I was reading allowed me to read more objectively than I otherwise might have and focus on “flaws” that I might not have noticed otherwise.

I think a ruthless editor could have cut the length of the book in half. Who was it who wrote, “Kill your darlings?” Oh. Apparently that’s a mystery. Anyway, I was ready to volunteer to murder a few of Mr. Roberts’s darlings. The book repeated itself a lot. I was sick of reading about the green of Karla’s eyes. I was sick of reading about Khader’s philosophy of life, the universe, and everything. I know there was more but those are the things that really stand out. One adjective was never good enough to describe anything. Heck, one sentence wasn’t good enough. “My eyes were lost, swimming, floating free in the shimmering lagoon of her steady, even stare. Her eyes were large and spectacularly green. It was the green that trees are, in vivid dreams. It was the green that the sea would be, if the sea were perfect.” Okay. I hope my husband feels something like that when he stares into my eyes. But I also hope that if he ever decides to write a book, he refrains from inflicting rhapsodies like that on his readers every time he describes me. Because it is Every. Single. Time.

That all out of the way, the language is lush and beautiful, just the way that Mr. Roberts describes Bombay itself. Every passage I choose to quote here is too long to go in a review so I’ll just say that within a few pages, I was breathing the hot, wet air of Bombay, inhaling the rich mix of smells, and being dazzled by the light reflecting off the water.

I could never live in Bombay. Just the thought of the living conditions and the crowds makes my chest tighten in panic. But I was able to look past that and take in the beauty that those who choose to live there see. The co-existence of the ancient and the modern, the kindness of individuals and the rage of the crowd, the majesty of the city that contains unimaginable squalor. That’s quite a feat.

But somewhere along the way, the feel of everything changed a bit. Instead of focusing so much on the city and the people that he loves, Lin starts focusing instead on his life of crime, his pursuit of the ever-elusive Karla, and his pursuit of vengeance. And that’s where I started to lose interest and slow down my reading. His friends in the slum were caring and kind. His criminal friends, while not as one-dimensional as you might expect, were still criminals. I found it hard to like them or to care what exploits Lin might get up to with them. My perception of Lin changed too. Instead of the volunteer “doctor” helping the slum-dwellers, he became pretty cold-blooded and calculating.

I’m in the minority in my rating here. Most people have given it five stars. I definitely see the potential within these pages, but it just needed to be tightened up a lot more for me. If you want to vicariously experience a completely different life in a place and culture that is probably pretty foreign to most of us here in book blog land, I do recommend that you give Shantaram a try.

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1 Comment

  1. You have far more patience than I do to actually make it through this book. It was picked for my book club so I gave it a shot, but about 150 pages in, I gave up and just skimmed the rest. It definitely could have used an editor. Aside from the never-ending prose, my biggest problem with it was that it all seemed fake and self-indulgent to me. I didn't like any of the characters and didn't want to spend any time with them. Given the book's length, that's a big problem LOL.

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