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Reading "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts was an Experience.

An Article

By Annie KapurPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Image from Huc and Gabet Books

It has washed over me all of a sudden in a Reddit thread that I need to read Shantaram. But there are also so many other books to read at this time, from reading books to work books to personal development books. But Shantaram has to fit in somewhere. I got it on my Kindle App on my phone after much thinking because I was on the bus and wanted to check it out. Now, had I seen Shantaram in the shops? Possibly, but I paid little attention to it when it came to other books. Did I know how long it was? No. On my Kindle App it simply came up with a file size and if you were to say a file size to me then you may as well be speaking in an ancient alien language - I haven't got a clue what you're talking about. Long story short; nobody told me this book was nearly a thousand pages long and whilst I was in the midst of reading other books - I felt like I'd committed some sort of crime.

Image from 'FirstPost'

“Some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. Some things are so sad that only your soul can do the crying for them.”

It started off with me wanting to start the book, but knowing I had to re-read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which I had in my handbag. I had started re-reading it because of an itch to do so and, after finding things I had missed, I was completely immersed once again into the novel. I even wrote a bit about what I had found here. And so, Shantaram sat on the back burner once again. I read one chapter of it during the day and honestly, I won't lie to you when I say it was not my thing at all. But I knew I wanted to carry on with it. Over the next three days, I had reached up to the end of Chapter 5 whilst also reading other books such as: Stories by Susan Sontag, The Benefit of Hindsight by Susan Hill and The Possession of Mr Cave by Matt Haig. By then, I had met other people who had already read the book. Some told me it was awesome and made them want to go backpacking around India again, some others said it was really slow for them and they didn't like it at all.

Image from: The Manhattan Rare Book Company

All in all, up to this point it's safe to say I'm having a hard time getting into the novel and staying in it. I am simply carrying on with it because of the vast character development as it was surreal. As for the lengthy conversations on ethics and such - I could've done without that. Why? Well, I enjoyed reading these explanations but it didn't really feel like anything anyone would say in real life. For all the great the atmosphere is, this man has serious trouble writing dialogue. My god if I have to read that conversation about taking a shower in underpants in Chapter 5 ever again I will not be held responsible for my actions.

As I started to move through the book and things actually started to happen, I became more at ease with it, finishing many chapters in short spaces of time. From the fire in the slums to Lin's arrest and bail. It was really very good all the way through and the more I read, the more I learned about an entire underworld that I had never even heard of (which is surprising because basically my entire family is from that country and- well, nothing). I really did enjoy it a lot and as I was reading and characters started to fight, others started to die - I finally felt a strange dymanic between Lin and his distrust for basically everyone except for Prabakar.

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”

It's really funny because the first eight chapters took me almost a week to read because I really didn't like the book at all. But the rest of the book also took me about a week because of the fact it actually started to get interesting and it was no longer people standing around or sitting around and talking about literally nothing I cared about. Instead, it was about Lin's character development, his incredible and improving nature and yet - there is always this dark something out there that is about to make everything go so very wrong.

Image from: John Atkinson Books

I think the most emotional part of the book was the wedding in Part 4, Chapter 29. I think you all know why if you've read it but I won't say exactly what it is. But what I will say is that the chapter starts off really happy with singing and dancing, weddings and movies, money and gifts everywhere. It ends though on quite a horrid note and I really did think that this was the most emotional part of the book.

Excerpt from my diary (spoilers deleted):

I am well and truly shaken. I spent a long time crying at the end of Part 4 and honestly, I was not ready for that kind of information to be handed to me. I think I'm still crying somewhere inside. This has by far been the best part of the book but for all the wrong reasons. I'm just sitting here crying, thinking about how far this guy has come and yet...I'm not going to lie - I did not see that coming from any direction. It's quite possibly one of the most harrowing chapters I have read in any book for a long time. I cannot tell you how shattered I am by this - it was as if my sadness overwhelmed me for Chapter 29. Good grief, why did it have to hit so hard?

End of excerpt.

The next notable chapter was probably Chapter 36 for the fact that it felt a bit unreal at times. I get it, there are strange things going on, strange emotions going on and weird scenes going on because nobody has eaten since god knows when but honestly, I don't understand how he couldn't smell the goat carcass from where he was. There was nothing else in the way of him and the bush which held the goat. I felt a bit cheated out of a reason here that only one character could smell it and literally nobody else could.

However, I did like the tension that this chapter provided. The protagonist was under extreme stress, constantly on-edge and yet, the other characters were laughing, joking and having a good time - all of them aware that they could, by all chances, die the next day. When Lin was telling his stories to the rest of the group I found that to be really interesting. He really revealed himself to them in terms of his background, explaining how he escaped from prison and the like. But I think the most touching story he told was that of his friend, Prabakar. It was very emotional only to be rudely responded to by some guy wanting to know about goats. I honestly didn't understand why that mattered but apparently it was good enough to shoehorn into the story.

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”

By the end of the book, I'm not going to lie, I didn't know how to feel really. Part of me was happy it was over and the other part of me wish it hadn't ended. I enjoyed his dynamic friendships and strange incidents with people, I enjoyed the vast landscapes and descriptions that involved cultural discovery. I didn't enjoy the romanticisation of criminal activity or the ego trip the author seemed to be on a lot of the time. What I wished for it to have was more of that element of cultural discovery through other people. Descriptions of people and places, of everywhere around the area and less of the romanticisation of the criminal underworld. So, as a whole, I sit on the fence with this one. I'm really not sure whether I like it or not but I really hope I meet it again int he future - maybe we can be better friends than we were here.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

175K+ Reads on Vocal

Film and Writing (M.A)

My New Twitter: @AnnieWithBooks

📍Birmingham, UK

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