Synopses & Reviews
"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.
"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.)
"Extraordinarily vivid...a gigantic, jaw-dropping, grittily authentic saga." Daily Mail
"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....[D]espite the novel's length, it is difficult not to be ensnared by it." Booklist
"[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.
About the Author
Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram and its sequel, The Mountain Shadow, was born in Melbourne, Australia. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison for a series of armed robberies, he escaped and spent ten of his fugitive years 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, he served out his sentence, and established a successful multimedia company upon his release. Roberts is now a full-time writer and lives in Bombay.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss Bombay/Mumbai as a “character” in the book. What role does it play? What are the things Lin loves most about the city? Why does he fit in there?
2. Why are Prabaker and Lin drawn to each other so quickly? What do they have in common that binds them?
3. Discuss how Lins prison stays end up casting a long shadow over his life. In what ways do the wounds from prison - both physical and psychological - change him? How do they change his outlook for the better? For the worse?
4. Characterize the various women in Lins life and talk about the role they play and the influence they have on Lin: Karla? Madame Zhou? Lisa Carter?
5. “Shame” is an important theme throughout the book. What does Lin feel shamed by and how does this guide him through life? In which other characters do we see “shame,” and what are the positive and negative effects?
6. The Bollywood world constantly weaves in and out of the fringes of Lins story. Where do you see it influencing Lin and the other characters in the novel? How does it make you feel to have this glamorous world of film so closely linked to the underworld of the Bombay slums?
7. Khader Khan has a fascinating, almost paternal, influence in Lins life. If you could pick just three words to describe his character, what would they be and why? Would you say you have chosen positive words to describe him, or negative ones?
8. Khader Khan arrives at the following conclusion: “It is wrong to kill. But your reasons were good. So therefore, the truth of this decision is that you did the wrong thing, for the right reasons…” Discuss what he means by this in the context of Lins life. More generally, do you agree with him, that doing certain actions can be wrong, but for the right reasons? Why or why not?
9. Lins journey to Afghanistan is brief but profound. Were you at all surprised by the depiction of social and political strife in that part of the world between the mujaheddin and the USSR? How do you see Afghanistan as depicted in the book tying into what you know of Afghanistan from more recent events?
10. “The choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.” Talk about this assertion in the first paragraph of the book in the context of Lins entire life story. How does Lins life change based on who he hates and who he forgives? How have the choices youve made with “hating and forgiving” affected your own life?