Shantaram is one of those books that kept pestering me until I decided to read it. In the space of one week I heard three different people say how amazing it was. And then I started to hear little bits of legend, like how the author, Gregory David Roberts, had to write it three times because prison guards kept destroying it. I still held back, I bought it as a Christmas present for someone else, read the back of it, then handed it over. But the same person had also bought me Shantaram for Christmas! So there it was. Read me! Read me! Read me Read me!
I loved the start of it, so all’s well that starts well. Not really. I found it changed drastically as it went on. It actually took me a while to realise what had changed, and then I noticed that I really missed Prabaker, one of the characters at the start of the book. Prabaker made me laugh out loud a lot. And that’s what was missing. Now it’s not supposed to be a comedy but it was seriously lacking any sense of humour towards the end and got very serious. And then it really kicked in, the serious, manly, testosterone filled bollox that bores the me death in books, films, and BLOKES I know who think it’s big, clever and impressive to be big and manly. Yawn. I loved it when he lived in the slum, and then in a small indian village but I got seriously bored when he joined the mafia and went on to fight some pointless war in the name of manliness.
My second critiscism is on the philosophy of the book. I’m not going to completely knock it. Some of it is written with great charm, and some of it even made good sense but a lot of it was schoolboy philosophy, complete boloxology. You cannot assess situations by stretching their components to the uttermost extremeties, and taking the outcome to be comparitive to any point on the path. Example: say you’re wondering if you’re better off running from the bus to your house when it’s lashing rain. Thinking in extremities would lead you to think that if you ran at 1000 miles an hour, then you’d spend so little time in the rain that you wouldn’t get wet at all. So you’re always better off running in the rain, right? No. Bollox. It doesn’t work like that. And most people have figured that out by the time their acne is dissapearing. You cannot judge by extremeties alone. Degrees of magnitude vary the outcome. Yet this extremism is the core of the book’s philosophy, dressed up in the form of a wise religious leader, who in turn inherited this knowledge from his wise and honourable master. We’re not just talking about two blokes in the pub. This nonsense is supposed to come from generations of very wise and learned people, but because it’s such playground philosophy, its a big let down to the book.
Another thing that bothered me is the whole ‘Is it truth is it fiction?’ thing. It’s a mixture of both, and that never left my head, I never knew what I was reading and I found that very distracting.
Right…. whenever I start giving out about something like this so much, I start thinking ‘Who am I to give out?’ ‘What have I written?’ but the truth is if I did write books I wouldn’t dream of criticising other books. But whatever (Dude), I spent long enough reading it, so I’m going to say my thang. Though I don’t think I even meant to start out writing a bad review, I did love lots of it, and most of it is really well written (though there is quite a bit of purple prose too, oops, there I go again). Gregory David Roberts, obviously had an absolutely fascinating life, and Shantaram is a fascinating read, just be prepared for the different parts of the book to be quite different and decide if it bothers you or not if you don’t know whether you’re reading fact or fiction. Oh, there was another good thing I forgot, like many others no doubt; Shantaram is a love story, a story of a man falling in love with a country, and I too, fell in love with India and its people while reading Shantaram, and it’s definitely on the big list of places I want to see before I die.