“Shantaram” is one of the best novels I have ever read, only that there are many novels I read and I liked a lot and considered of high quality. It is huge, but Vikram Seth‘s “A Suitable Boy” is huger. They both are so “readable” that you regret every time you put any one of them down.
“Shantaram” reminded me of “Papillon”, or better said, “Banco”, the second in Henry Charriere‘s series of adventures, but the only resemblance is that the heroes, the authors themselves, were convicts and have escaped from prison. The reasons have been different, the scopes, the times, the geography. I’ll tell about Papillon in another post.
Shantaram is a name given to the author by a wise and simple woman, in a remote village in the vast Indian state of Maharashtra. But the story, without spoiling it begins in Bombay Airport in the early eighties, where the author arrives with a false New Zealand passport after escaping from a high security prison in Australia, where he was convicted for armed robbery. He met his Indian “guide” at the airport, a very nice fellow who will become his friend (actually he was the first one to adopt “Lindsay” as a genuine friend in India). The adventure begins with some hashish and some whiskey and the fact that the author wasn’t quite a regular fellow. We find that he was addicted to heroin when he was arrested in Australia, but you can read that on Wikipedia or on Goodreads. I found about the book searching to read more about India and especially Bombay, a city I love but I haven’t had the time to enjoy it like Gregory David Roberts, “Linbaba” alias Shantaram. You’ll read other things too, that he escaped from prison in Australia and went to Bombay to join the local mafia. It’s a long way from one event to the other.
You have to read this book. It’s not quite “about India” as it is about the Indian spirit and heart, and it seems unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because a lot of things happen in a relatively short time.
In a future post, I’ll offer you my own list of books which can be read in a lifetime and you will never forget. My list contain also some books considered universaly “best of all times”, but also some that you haven’t met in these sort of recommendations. Take “Shantaram”, which is on my list.
Tolstoy for example, is considered good, but it’s boring. You have to drag yourself to read any of his books. It doesn’t flow. I’m not a big fan of Dostoevsky either, but I read “Crime and Punishment”, like I read “Anna Karenina”, when I was a kid.
“Shantaram” has been published for the first time in 2003, in Australia, and the printed edition has around 930 pages. It is a good read, with all the author attempts to lyricism from time to time, it is about some of Bombay’s underground life and not only.
The author, Gregory David Roberts, after all his ordeals, finally married a princess with roots in Istanbul’s Fener district, fact that makes her even Romanian, because Sturza family bought at least one time the rights to govern Vallahia or Moldavia from the Ottomans, as Princes. Romanians are known for their attachment for foreign crowned leaders, they rarely trusted their owns. You may think that he would remain with what he called at a time the love of his life, the ever mysterious Karla. Maybe she is “Karla”, I don’t know more than that. Maybe the Swiss connection is just a coincidence, I have not yet researched this lead. I’ll be honored to meet him personally, and I’m glad he is still alive.
It would have been impossible for this magnificent novel to not rise the idea of a screen adaptation. But that can be quite another story itself. I wish the movie to be better than what they did with “Papillon” at the time.
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