Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a fascinating adventure that takes place in India during the mid-1980’s. Lin, the main character, is a writer, a former heroin addict, a father and son, an armed robber, and an Australian fugitive who escaped from a maximum security prison and fled to India. The first half of the book was riveting. I am now enthralled with Bombay (a.k.a. Mumbai) and its bustling, frenetic buzz. The sights, smells, tastes and sounds Roberts describes made me feel as though I was there with him. Luckily I wasn’t because he gets into some dangerous situations with some questionable people throughout the book.
The best part thus far has been his period living in the slums of Bombay running a free medical clinic. The squalor and filth of the slums are hard to imagine. The most unbelievable aspect of slum communities is how strong the sense of togetherness is and how happy many of the people are. Even though Roberts says his book is fiction, he did spend time in an Australian prison, he did escape to India and he did run a free medical clinic in the slums. Because of that, I believe his version of life and people in the slums. I googled pictures of that particular area where Lin lived and the extreme poverty, the dirty water, the rubbish, and the congestion is real.
After the first 400 or so pages, the book changes and becomes less about India and more about the main character who I’ve yet to decide if I like. I feel like I’m in an action/adventure movie full of foreign intrigue and testosterone. There have been rumors over the last several years that it will become a movie starring Johnny Depp. The current rumor is that the movie has been shelved for now, which may be a good thing. I can see how it could easily be turned into a movie mostly about the criminal aspect of the book.
I have about a third of the book left to go (jeesh!) and I only have until Friday to return it to the library. I had better get on it!