I thought because of its density (936 pages), Greg David Robert’s Shantaram might keep me busy for all of the humid summer evenings of Ontario. Surprisingly, it lasted only two weeks. Shantaram is a narrative packed with exotic and hugely foreign events, names and crises of every sort. As I breathed the humid air of Belleville, I felt that I came to know Bombay and its slums through the colour and honesty of Robert’s words.
Reviews on this book vary tremendously. I’d have to agree with the worst and say that the protagonist/writer is self-serving and egocentric. At times this made me weary. On the other hand, the exotic nature of the setting and events, and the step into the completely unfamiliar territory of Bombay mafia and slum life, was very rich. Subsequently, my peeked curiosity about India has caused me to pick up Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.
At times, Shantaram tries to give us broad lessons about life, suffering and love, and even God, but the nature of these lessons and the context (sometimes shared within the circle of killers and mafia lords) create a challenge for the reader. Similar to all of life’s circumstances, though, the reader is responsible to be discerning.
On page 132, I found a paragraph that works for me.
“And there was a sense of certainty, in the village, that no city I’ve ever known provides: the certainty that emerges when the soil, and the generations who work it, become interchangeable; when the identities of the human beings and the nature of the place are one and the same. Cities are centres of constant and irreversible change. The definitive sound of a city is the rattlesnake chatter of a jackhammer – the warning sound you hear as the business reptile strikes. But change in the village is perennial. What changes in nature is restored with one wheel of the seasons. What comes from the earth always returns. What flourishes, dies away to bloom again.” s.i.c.