My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Almost everyone I know has read this book. And their reviews have been unanimously positive. Suffice to say that was enough to get me to read this pseudo-autobiographical account of an escaped Australian convict who called India (and specifically Bombay) his home.
Our protagonist (for lack of a better word), Lin, is on the run from the local authorities back home in the land down under and is just arriving at the Bombay International Airport in the early 80s as the story begins. From there begins his humorous, at times bizarre, uncanny and ultimately spiritual journey through Bombay, India and beyond.
Lin’s journey, as penned in the book, spans five parts with forty-two chapters across the slums of Bombay, a village in Maharashtra, shady hotels in Africa, the mountains of Afghanistan and finally comes full circle to an enlightened end at the slums. The experiences he narrates are often interlaced with philosophical teachings as well personal observational conclusions which at times do sound kinda as though he’s some sort of Guru. But if you remove the prejudicial thought from your mind, the experiences do provide some truly pearls of wisdom.
The author bases the anecdotes and stories based on personal experiences and his knowledge of the land is undeniably first hand. One of the elements of the book that really made me re-read certain chapters was the brilliantly detailed description of the geography of my home town of Bombay (Mumbai if you want to sound politically correct!)
Another aspect of the book that made it entertaining (and also run over 900 pages) was the author’s attempt to vividly describe every single character, minor or major, on every page. Barring a few descriptions that were completely uncalled for, this approach does provide a great visual interpretation of the characters you are reading.
At 933 pages, this is no simple read and took me a good amount of time to complete (but then I’m a slow reader!). But the long reading journey will reward you with the experience of an absolutely unprecedented journey into the life of Linbaba aka Shantaram. And who knows, his journey may inspire you to embark on one of your own!