The story revolves around a guy (our lead) who goes by a few names ranging from Lindsay/Lin who later gets his Indian name ‘Shantaram’ while on one of his adventures in a village in India.
Shantaram is about a man who in one life was a robber/thief and who escapes a maximum security prison in Australia, somehow finds his way to New Zealand, forges his passport and flies to Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Leaving his past life behind, he starts afresh and somehow immediately falls in love with everything the city and its people have to offer.
As a man who is keen to start a new life and thanks to his unique sense of belongingness in the city and due to his limitations on travelling further, he starts living in the city more like a local than a foreigner. He finds a bestfriend/little brother in Prabakar who shows him the way through the city.
From entering the city as a fugitive to spending months in a village with Prabakar, moving from a cheap hotel to the slums due to financial constraints, falling in love with a woman who’s conflicted about it within herself, getting beaten to near death in jail to finding his way into the mafia, learning about their trades, making paternal and brotherly ties with people and finding himself in Afghanistan to keep his word, this man will do everything you ask him to.
One of the things that makes this book very different for me from others, is the number of characters it has and their presence. Normally, a book may have 2-3 lead characters and the rest supporting characters that occupy not more than a chapter at max barring a few. Shantaram differentiates itself from the rest in this aspect, thanks to the occurrence and reoccurrence of a varied number of characters with a strong presence and with their own stories.
Gregory David Roberts does an excellent job of pacing this book all through its 1000 pages. The book becomes extremely interesting and fast in a few chapters, whereas takes a turn when the characters talk about life and philosophy which makes a reader think and ponder about their own life and living. But this isn’t even what makes the book so interesting.
It isn’t about the journey of Lin’s life, neither about the philosophy that it discusses nor about love or family or any one particular aspect. The entire writing in itself is so simple and yet so extraordinary that it just manages to catch you. There is just something so special about the author using simple words to touch your heart. The way the book manages to take you on its journey and create a word picture is extraordinary.
Shantaram is for everyone. Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, whether you prefer a thriller or a mystery, whether you like self-learning books or whether you like books that make you think; Shantaram has it all. Amongst the 100 books I’ve read, I haven’t come across something like this and I am here to tell you, this is the best book I’ve read in 23 years of my existence, and a book I cannot recommend enough.