title: Shantaram

author: Gregory David Roberts

genre: Fiction, Bombay, fugitive

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: June 13th – June 19th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: His real name unknown, Lindsay Ford is a fugitive, escaped from a maximum security prison in Australia.  He has made his way to Bombay, India and quickly finds himself in love with the place and the people he meets.  As he learns the languages and the culture, he starts up a relationship with members of one of the local gangs, led by Abdel Khader Khan.  With his fake passport expired and no funds, he moves to the slums, and quite by accident develops a free medical clinic from his hut.  As time goes by, he becomes more and more entangled with the gang but is fond of Khader and those who work for him and seems happy to play the part.  However, running with such a crowd has its consequences, which Lindsay discovers in time.

personal thoughts: Although this was an extremely long book (about 930 pages), it was a very engaging and enjoyable read.  Roberts drew from some of his own experiences, having escaped from an Australian prison himself and spending his fugitive years in India.  It is not totally clear what’s fact and what’s fiction, but nevertheless, he paints a vivid and beautiful picture of Lindsay’s life in Bombay.  As with life, not everything is rosy and clean, but that just makes the story richer.  The many friends he makes each have something valuable to teach him, and while he might not understand the value at the time, he pays tribute to each one.  Beautiful, tragic, magical, I recommend this read.

favorite quotes: “I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison.” p. 3

“The contrast between the familiar and the exceptional was everywhere around me. . .The impression was of a plodding, indefatigable, and distant past that had crushed intact, through barriers of time, into its own future.” p. 11 “

the past reflects eternally between two mirrors – the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say.” p. 36

“Imprisonment meant that they took away the sun and the moon and the stars.  Prison wasn’t hell, but there was no heaven in it, either.  In its own way, that was just as bad.” p. 57

“Ask any man with a long-enough experience of prisons, and he’ll tell you that all it takes to harden a man’s heart is a system of justice.” p. 81

“The definitive sound of a city is the rattlesnake chatter of a jackhammer – the warning sound you hear as the business reptile strikes.  But change in the village is perennial.  What changes in nature is restored with one wheel of seasons.  What comes from the earth always returns.  What flourishes, dies away to bloom again.” p. 132

“I knew that my presence in Sunder defiled the village.  I knew that every smile I took from them was swindled.  Life on the run puts a lie in the echo of every laugh, and at least a little larceny in every act of love.” p. 147

“‘Justice is not done until everyone is satisfied, even those who offend us and must be punished by us. . .justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong.  It is also the way we try to save them.'” p. 229

“The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is your suffering.  So I took each sadness she confessed to me, and pinned it to the sky.” p. 387

“‘There is no objective and universally accepted definition of good and evil.  And until we have one, we will go on justifying our own actions, while condemning the actions of others.'” p. 484

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us.  What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.” p. 629

“Lettie had once said that she found it strange and incongruous to hear me describe criminals, killers, and mafiosi as men of honour.  The confusion, I think, was hers, not mine.  She’d confused honour with virtue.  Virtue is concerned with what we do, and honour is concerned with how we do it.” p. 831

“I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again.  And unvoiced, unmoving, unlived in the things we declare from heart to heart, those true and real feelings wither and crumble in the remembering hand that tires too late to reach for them.” p. 881