Thursday, 15 November 2012

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A captivating story and epic novel. This book takes you on a long journey, with twists and turns and trials and tribulations. Although set in Mumbai, India, this novel is far from just a cultural book. The main character, Lin, starts a new life in Mumbai, which is a journey through life and all that it has to offer.

The first few chapters of the novel made me laugh outrageously. From the nodding Indian heads to the first shower in the village, the depictions of situations are brilliant. Settling in India with Lin was a gripping read which had me turning pages quickly. As Lin begins to settle down and makes a close knit community of friends, the story shifts. I particularly enjoyed learning about Mumbai, the nature of the city and its dark side. The way in which Roberts has captured and highlighted these is superb. Furthermore, Mumbai acts as a symbol for life itself. The lessons we are taught from Lin’s living in Mumbai are for life itself rather than a survival guide for India’s chaotic city.

I consider the strength of this novel to lie in the strong characterisation of its main characters. Through the artisitic descriptions, we grow to love some of the characters, such as Prabaker and Didier, and have a hunch about others, such as Abel Khader Khan and Karla. Although we know no more than the narrator himself, the way in which we instantly warm to some characters more than others is indicative of excellent characterisation. In addition to this, we are given a window into Lin’s heart through his deep sense of warmth and love for India almost straightaway and is further enforced throughout the novel. This is a very impressive writing technique rendered by Roberts.

The novel has many philosophical messages and life lessons which we are taught by living through Lin’s experiences. Learnings in the form of quotations which are evoked by the characters, in particular Karla and Khader Khan, add to the story. They give it a fantasy like, almost biblical element. This works really well with the themes of black market doings, corruption and general illegal activity that the novel works around. The message that everything is centred around money and corruption, even purity and love, is highlighted numerous times. Although a rather disturbing thought, we are able to piece together the events of the novel as a result.

I really enjoyed going on Lin’s journey of growth. The first person narrative style of this novel lends itself really well as it enables us as the reader to live through not only the hardships that he encounters, but also his experiences. This, in turn helps the reader feel as though they have also grown as a person. I think this is a unique feature of the book, which makes so many people enjoy and recommend it to others.

What I disliked about the novel is the long narratives of conversation between Khader Khan and Lin. Their spiritual conversations were lengthy and rather tiresome to read. I also found the prison descriptions and human suffering extremely difficult to read. However, I do believe that these parts are integral and add to the novel, as they show both the hardships and pleasures of life. The language in these sections of the novel are not as gripping as earlier parts of the novel and as a result, many readers give up reading the novel.

I believe that the success of this book is down to the strong ingredients it has to make a great novel; these being, friendship, adventure, philosophy and romance. A beautiful tale, in parts vivid and in parts brutal. The story and the way it is narrated, gives every reader the opportunity to become more well-rounded thinker and shrewder person. 

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