Monday, January 17, 2011

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts.......

Something that annoys me is when I can't remember what made me want to read a particular book. I don't know if this book was mentioned in someone's blog, if I read something about it online, or if I just stumbled across it by accident. I know that I downloaded it onto my Kindle on December 13th, and I know it was NOT one of the gazillion free ones I picked. But something made me think I wanted to read it. If it was your blog on which I read a mention of this book, I would like to thank you. The book was published in 2003, so forgive me for being a little slow on the take. I don't know WHERE I was when this book came out.

This book affected me profoundly. I didn't do a good job of highlighting passages, because I read most of it on the iPad, and it's not quite as friendly about the highlighting business as the Kindle is. The upside of reading it on the iPad was that I could just double-touch a word to have it defined for me, and there were NUMEROUS instances of that. It's not that the author tried to hit you over the head with his awesome vocabulary, he simply used words in a rich and powerful way. There were many passages that made me put the book down a minute and go, "Wow."  I wish I could remember more of them, but one in particular stood out in my memory. The character was talking about prison and the legal system in general:

"We can compel men not to be bad. But we cannot compel them to be good."

For some reason that quote just spoke to me. It makes me think we have it all wrong in education. We should be finding ways to compel young people to be good. Then we wouldn't have to spend so much time compelling them not to be bad. 

The main character arrives in Bombay with a false passport in the name of Lindsay Ford. He has escaped from prison in Australia in broad daylight and is, naturally, on the run. He stays in Bombay and falls in love with the city, taking the name of Linbaba. What better place to hide, than a city of a gazillion people? He hires a local guide to teach him about the city and its customs, and Lin becomes well known to both the lowly and the mighty. He learns the local language(s) and eventually becomes involved with powerful men who control the city's organized crime activities. He forges relationships easily and adapts to his surroundings with ease.

After I finished the book, I wanted to know more about it and the author. (I don't like to know about a book's background BEFORE I read it. That's why I rarely read book reviews.) I was amazed to learn that the book is based on events from the author's own life. Gregory David Roberts did escape from prison in  Australia in broad daylight. He started writing Shantaram in prison, and guards destroyed the manuscript....twice. He wound up on Bombay, intending for it to be a stopover, but he wound up staying for ten years. He says many of the events of the book are fictional, but the overall concept is based on his own experience.

I wasn't surprised to find that the book was scheduled to be made into a movie. Originally Russell Crowe was slated to play the main character's role (and I would pick him for no other reason than he shares my birthday), but then Johnny Depp expressed love for the book, and the author agreed that Depp was a better fit because of his being "clued into India." There were several delays of production due to what I figure were personality conflicts, personnel changes in studios, weather (monsoon season in India), and differences of opinion. The last entry I could find said the project had been shelved, and I'm trying not to mourn that.

I got a little bogged down in the political discussions, but they were necessary for understanding the book's context. That is the only complaint I have about the book. It is rich with details about the culture and the people of India. I wish I could find a word better than "rich" to describe it. Roberts' description is detailed without being oppressive, and his command of the English language left me breathless. Hubby came into the room one night last week to ask/tell me something, and I responded the best I could with tears streaming down my face. The book is just profoundly charged with emotion, and I was sad to see it come to an end.


DJan said...

I put a link to Shantaram (actually to Gregory Roberts' website) on my blog in September while was reading the book. I found it to be hard to put down, too, but once I thought about the book and hoped for a movie (I must have read all the things you did), I put it in the back of my mind. It's an amazing story of his life, pretty much.

But after some time had passed, I hesitated about giving the book to a friend, because there is something about it I can't put my finger on, that seems a little off. Did you pick up on that or did I just make it up?

Maggie said...

The quote alone that you shared here and with me in an email has stuck with me for weeks. I am going to read this book in Feb. (Other Jan. obligations are taking precedence, unfortunately)

This is a great review and sounds like a book that is just up my ally.

I have a Kindle app. on my phone. I wonder if we can "share" the book with an app rather than if I own the actual devise?

Thanks for the review!

Kelly said...

When I signed up for a "Global Reading Challenge" in December someone recommended this book for an Australia OR Asia selection. My hesitation is the length, but I'm seriously considering it. (especially now, after some of the comments you made here) I'm guessing it would work best for Asia since the majority of it takes place in India?