Shantaram

26 10 2013

This book started like an adventure novel with a cross-cultural theme, which I really liked. But for each hundred pages (it’s 933 pages in total), the story became rougher and rougher. About two-thirds way through, there were so many bloody and gory bits, many which were very explicit, that I was thinking that this was definitely not my kind of novel at all. But I was hooked, because this rather violent and gritty story has a very warm and life-affirming centre: it’s really about redemption, love and forgiveness. And freedom.

The vivid description of life in Bombay is fantastic, and the multifaceted plot draws you in. Often you have no idea of where you’re heading. And I think this sense that I didn’t really know what the novel was “about” – until I had passed page 700 – was something I actually really enjoyed, because when it all became clear, it was all incredibly clever.

Lindsay, who escapes prison in Australia and hides in Bombay, India, has a powerful moment of recognition – what Aristotle would have called the anagnorisis – and this moment in the novel is superb. All the various threads in the story suddenly make sense, and the rest of the novel is about what Lindsay does with this new understanding, and where it takes him. I realise this is rather vague, but I don’t want spot spoil the impact for anybody about to read this book.

Another thing I really liked about this novel were the gems hidden in the often rough dialogue. Moments of clear perception of something rather large and complex, like, “What is India?” The lines about India as the “Land of the Heart”, or personality as “[the] co-ordinates a on a street map drawn by our intersecting relationships” are profound and very perceptive.

This novel made me think a lot, and I won’t forget the colourful and rich descriptions of Bombay. They kind of stay with you.

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