Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Season of Reading - Shantaram

The Amazon Synopsis reads as follows: " 'It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.'

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay.  Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

This book is everything a novel should be: adventerous, passionate, exciting, romantic, gruesome, gritty and consuming.  All this being said, I have been reading this book little by little over a couple of years and had to re-start it twice.  For the life of me, I cannot explain why.  It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I was hooked from the first few pages, but I think the size of it felt daunting and I wanted to savor it in a way.  It is an epic tale and I was happy to find out that it was the first written book in a series of books. 

I would highly recommend this read.  It brings you into a fascinating world and holds you there in a brilliant weaving of words.  The author introduces you to unforgettable characters and experiences and you come out of the story feeling attached to people and places you have never met or visited.  I literally cried a couple of times, and while I am an emotional person, it is also the gift of the writer to bring you that deeply into their story.

A friend of mine in Uganda said he was so enthralled by this book he was reading it on the back of a motorcycle that someone else was driving with the book between them, and I can understand that after finishing this read.  It is entrancing and addictive.  I hope someone who reads these words takes a chance on a monster of a book that is well worth the time.  

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