Wow, Shantaram is one heck of a read. I've spent so much time with these characters that it will be hard to start a new novel.
There's so much to Shantaram, though how much is based on the author's actual experiences in Bombay is anyone's guess, but what I enjoyed most about this novel was the insight it gave me into the Indian culture such as friendship, love and the meaning of that curious Indian head wiggle.
The story is told in the first person. There is plenty of humour at the start of the novel but it does get darker and darker, until you wonder if there is going to be light at the end of the tunnel. The characters range from slum dwellers to members of the Bombay Mafia, and I had to keep reminding myself that the mafia guys were criminals and violent men, yet it was so hard not to like them because we follow their developing friendships with the narrator Lin.
'Lin' is an Australian who has escaped from prison and who has arrived in
on a fake New Zealand
passport. He is befriended by Prabhakar
a young Indian tourist guide, and a truly wonderful character who totally enriches this novel. Prabhakar takes Lin to his home village for six months as their friendship strengthens and finds Lin a hut in the slum where he lives in Bombay. This hut eventually becomes the slum clinic
thanks to Lin's knowledge of first aid, and the slum dwellers inability to
obtain healthcare anywhere else.
Lin is eventually recruited into the Mafia and he finds himself prepared to risk his life just for the love of the mafia boss who he desperately wants to see as a father figure. The father figure dreams are shattered towards the end of the novel and only the friendships that Lin has made over his years in
Bombay will help to pull him through the hard
Despite its size, Shantaram is very easy to read, though I did find the constant metaphors and similes annoying and in places quite cringe worthy ("Our lips met like waves that crest and merge the whirl of storming seas."), and at times it did annoy me when 'Lin' gave the occasional sob story about his time spent in prison. I felt like saying "so what, you committed the crime...."
With this aside though Shantaram is a cracking read and it will probably rate up there with my favourites.