There’s not much more I can say about Shantaram that hasn’t already been said by the hoards of critics who unanimously agree upon its status as a literary masterpiece.
As a guy who doesn’t normally delve into many fictional books (I’m the reads-for-information type) I was absolutely blown away by Gregory David Roberts’ rich descriptions and contiguous storytelling.
Without giving too much away, Shantaram is narrated from the perspective of “Lin”, a former heroin addict who escapes from prison in Australia and flees to India where he eventually ends up working for a branch of the Bombay mafia. Upon this main premise, the real masterpiece lies in the details that fill out the rest of the 900+ page book, and the story soon becomes a chronicle of what it means to be human.
With elements ranging from betrayal, depression and revenge to redemption, spirituality and romance, Shantaram somehow manages to stitch everything together seamlessly, albeit poetically.
I think another big part of what makes the story work is that David Roberts was himself a former heroin addict who escaped prison in Australia and found refuge working for the Bombay mafia. With this obvious similarity to “Lin” in mind, you always have it in the back of your mind that perhaps Shantaram is somewhat of an autobiography, with the line between fact and fiction blurred to obscurity.
In the end, Shantaram is one of those books that you feel a sense of melancholy about finishing because it’s like you’re saying goodbye to an old friend, and as you close the book and reflect, somehow you seem changed.