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    Title: Shantaram (936 pages)
    Author: Gregory David Roberts
    Published: 2003

    Shantaram is an epic novel to compete with the best of them. It is the first-person account of Gregory David Roberts, a.k.a. ‘Lin,’ who, after escaping from prison in Australia, goes on to spend the next twenty years or so living in Bombay, among other places. Chalking up 936 pages in the process, this book covers at least five major portions of Lin’s life that are as different as night and day and all equally exciting.

    Roberts was, of course, recaptured, and he spent the remainder of his incarceration writing Shantaram. It is tightly based on real events, which, due to its grandiosity, makes it all the more luminescent. Lin is held in prison in Bombay as well, where he is treated like an animal. This leads him to remember his Australian prison experience. He says, ‘Imprisonment meant that they took away the sun and the moon and the stars. Prison wasn’t hell, but there was no heaven in it, either. In its own way, that was just as bad.’ This book is full of two-sided statements; Lin has the ultimate open mind, and is generally able to see every angle of a situation. This results in quite insightful commentary on his surroundings, his life, and the human condition.

    Aside from Lin himself, Roberts introduces several other major characters that provide equally catchy witticisms. Among these are Didier, an old drunk and black-market middleman of sorts; Karla, a love interest for Lin with an extremely troubled past; and most prolific, Khaderbhai, the mafia kingpin of Bombay. He tells Lin, ‘[F]ate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.’

    Because the novel is so extraordinarily long, it is no surprise that Lin grows close to some characters, and then has them fade away in order to let others into the spotlight of his affection. Naturally, this is also true to life. Every phase of our lives brings new surroundings and a new cast of characters to get acquainted with, and Shantaram does a great job depicting this. Lin moves from the happy teenaged tour guide Prabaker, who becomes one of his best friends, to Abdullah, a soldier and a surrogate brother to him, and eventually to Khaderbhai, who, in essence, becomes the father he never had. The novel is full of love and loss, but it seems to settle that old adage once and for all: it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

    As I mentioned earlier, the scope of Shantaram‘s plot is rather grand. Lin goes from being a doctor in the slums of Bombay to being on the city’s mafia council to a war in Afghanistan and back again (and these are only the general phases of significance!). Lin is the ultimate Renaissance man, and this is his story.

    Shantaram is about a man’s struggle to find out who he is. Bombay, with her seduction, teaches him to love, hate, dream, and regret. I know it’s very lengthy, and I know I say this more than I should, but you won’t regret reading this book. It is one of the finer pieces of literature I have come across in a while, in that it has so much to say without suffering any plot weakness as a result.

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