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Shantaramby Gregory David Roberts
Synopses & Reviews
In 1978, gifted student and writer Greg Roberts turned to heroin when his marriage collapsed, feeding his addiction with a string of robberies. Caught and convicted, he was given a nineteen-year sentence. After two years, he escaped from a maximum-security prison, spending the next ten years on the run as Australia's most wanted man.
Hiding in Bombay, he established a medical clinic for slum-dwellers, worked in the Bollywood film industry and served time in the notorious Arthur Road prison. He was recruited by one of the most charismatic branches of the Bombay mafia for whom he worked as a forger, counterfeiter, and smuggler, and fought alongside a unit of mujaheddin guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan. His debut novel, Shantaram, is based on this ten-year period of his life in Bombay. The result is an epic tale of slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison torture, mafia gang wars and Bollywood films. A gripping adventure story, Shantaram is also a superbly written meditation on good and evil and an authentic evocation of Bombay life.
"At the start of this massive, thrillingly undomesticated potboiler, a young Australian man bearing a false New Zealand passport that gives his name as 'Lindsay' flies to Bombay some time in the early '80s. On his first day there, Lindsay meets the two people who will largely influence his fate in the city. One is a young tour guide, Prabaker, whose gifts include a large smile and an unstoppably joyful heart. Through Prabaker, Lindsay learns Marathi (a language not often spoken by gora, or foreigners), gets to know village India and settles, for a time, in a vast shantytown, operating an illicit free clinic. The second person he meets is Karla, a beautiful Swiss-American woman with sea-green eyes and a circle of expatriate friends. Lin's love for Karla — and her mysterious inability to love in return — gives the book its central tension. 'Linbaba's' life in the slum abruptly ends when he is arrested without charge and thrown into the hell of Arthur Road Prison. Upon his release, he moves from the slum and begins laundering money and forging passports for one of the heads of the Bombay mafia, guru/sage Abdel Khader Khan. Eventually, he follows Khader as an improbable guerrilla in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. There he learns about Karla's connection to Khader and discovers who set him up for arrest. Roberts, who wrote the first drafts of the novel in prison, has poured everything he knows into this book and it shows. It has a heartfelt, cinemascope feel. If there are occasional passages that would make the very angels of purple prose weep, there are also images, plots, characters, philosophical dialogues and mysteries that more than compensate for the novel's flaws. A sensational read, it might well reproduce its bestselling success in Australia here. Agent, Joe Regal Literary. (Oct. 18) Forecast: This is a novel with electric appeal, heightened by Roberts's exotic backstory (see q&a, p. 36). There should be plenty of media interest in the book and its author, and its sheer heft will make it stand out in bookstores. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Shantaram is a novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty. If someone asked me what the book was about, I would have to say everything, every thing in the world. Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria, what Melville did for the South Seas, and what Thoreau did for Walden Pond: He makes it an eternal player in the literature of the world." Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides
"Extraordinarily vivid...a gigantic, jaw-dropping, grittily authentic saga." Daily Mail
"Shantaram has provided me with the richest reading experience to date and I don't expect anybody to unseat its all-round performance for a long time. It is seductive, powerful, complex, and blessed with a perfect voice. Like a voodoo ghost snatcher, Gregory David Roberts has captured the spirits of the likes of Henri Charri?re, Rohinton Mistry, Tom Wolfe, and Mario Vargas Llosa, fused them with his own unique magic, and built the most gripping monument in print. The land of the god Ganesh has unchained the elephant, and with the monster running amok, I tremble for the brave soul dreaming of writing a novel about India. Gregory David Roberts is a suitable giant, a dazzling guru, and a genius in full." Moses Isegawa, author of Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit
"Shantaram is, quite simply, the 1001 Arabian Nights of the new century. Anyone who loves to read has been looking for this book all their reading life. Anyone who walks away from Shantaram untouched is either heartless or dead or both. I haven't had such a wonderful time in years." Jonathan Carroll, author of White Apples
"Shantaram is dazzling. More importantly, it offers a lesson...that those we incarcerate are human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity. Some of them, after all, may be exceptional. Some may even possess genius." Ayelet Waldman, author of Murder Plays House
"Roberts' very long novel sails along at an amazingly fast clip....[A] rich saga....Roberts graphically, even beautifully, evokes [the Bombay] milieu....
"[A] sprawling, intelligent novel...full of vibrant characters." The Washington Post
Based directly upon the experiences of its author, Shantaram is the story of a man who escapes from a maximum security prison in Australia to arrive in Bombay, the crossroads of the underworld, where he works in a first-aid station and smuggles drugs and guns.
"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.
About the Author
Gregory David Roberts was born in Melbourne, Australia. A gifted writer and student, he became addicted to heroin when his marriage collapsed and he lost the custody of his daughter. When he committed a series of robberies with an imitation pistol, he was described as the Gentleman Bandit. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison, he escaped and journeyed to New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and Europe. For ten of those fugitive years he lived in Bombay — where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for a branch of the Bombay mafia. Recaptured in Germany, he served out his sentence there and in Australian prisons. Upon his release, he established a successful multimedia company, and since the international publication of Shantaram, he is a full-time writer, at home in several countries.
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