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Author: Gregory David Roberts

What is it about? Shantaram is the true story of an Australian man who, in the early 80’s, escaped from prison in New Zealand and fled to India. He goes on to lead an incredibly diverse and interesting life: setting up a free health clinic in the slums, working for the mafia in various capacities, and even fighting in the Afghanistan war. In some ways, I think of it as India’s version of The Godfather, but even that comparison does not do it justice. It’s an extremely long book, clocking in at around 950 pages, but don’t let that scare you.  The movie is now in the works, and will star Johnny Depp.

Excerpts: “The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. I was excited and delighted by it, in that first Bombay minute, escaped from prison and new to the wide world, but I didn’t and couldn’t recognise it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, give thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. Karla once called it the worst good smell in the world, and she was right, of course, in that way she had of being right about things. But whenever I return to Bombay, now, it’s my first sense of the city – that smell, above all things – that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.”

My Two Cents: Roberts effortlessly weaves his tale of espionage, romance and even philosophy into a highly engaging blockbuster of epic proportions. Roberts vibrantly brings the city of Bombay to the page, seeing the beauty where many before him have seen nothing but filth and corruption.

You might like it if you liked: The Power of One, Slumdog Millionaire, The Godfather

One Comment

  1. Epic. The one word I would use to describe this book. So many wonderful characters (Prabaker is my fav) are introduced in so many exciting and interconnected stories (from living in the slums of Bombay to fighting in Afghanistan). Written with great details and well-paced, Shantaram is a must-read for all.

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