07 January 2010

Shantaram - Gregory Roberts

I read Shantaram by Gregory Roberts over Christmas, its long, 950+ pages but it was so compelling that I got through it in 6 days.

It tells the true story of an Australian bank robber and ex junky who escapes from jail and ends up in Bombay. The story follows him from his arrival in the city, through his time in a rural village and back to the city where he ends up living in one of the slums, and starting a medical clinic. From there he gets arrested for no obvious reason and with no trail or chance of escape he is locked up, brutally beaten and almost dies. He is liberated from the jail by a mafia boss and goes to work for the local crime syndicate, ultimately ending up fighting with the Mujahidin against the Russians in Afghanistan before returning to Bombay.

The story is excellently crafted and written. He brings the people of Bombay to life and his love for them, from the poorest slum dweller, through the ex-pats and rich locals right up to the crime lord is clear. What only becomes apparent towards the end is how he is manipulated by a bigger power. His story is that of the bishop on the chess set. He is not the simple pawn, he is more useful, with a power to slide between the various lines, but at the same time he is certainly not the master of his destiny and he is used and scarified along the way.

It is a stunning book, I can not recommend it strongly enough, excellently written, and an amazing story of daring do, unrequented love and life in one of the poorest parts of the World. He is a truly great story teller and if even a half of it are true, a pretty amazing person.

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