Shantaram is the wide-spanning autobiography of Gregory David Roberts; jail escapee, Indian slum doctor, thief, smuggler, gunrunner and drug addict. His vivid life story begins with one of the most arresting openers I've ever come across; '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 the wall and being tortured.' Obviously, Roberts' life is not one of two-point-five kids and a white picket fence.
As well as narrating events, Shantaram contains the emotions of its author, and the philosophy of one who has experienced far too much to not think about it. And he comes up with some gems. This book will appeal to those who prefer a true tale, and are undaunted by the book's nine-hundred-plus pages. The intensity of life in India is tackled head-on by Roberts, who imposes neither morals nor expectations on his readers, but simply talks about his life and the way he has lived it.
An autobiography – that is, words by people who don't usually write – can be an awkward, dry composition. Roberts is a lively exception, adding 'author' to his long list of career paths with the merit of one who has devoted a lifetime to the art. He speaks openly and without drama, while maintaining a storyteller's eye for narrative and structure, giving the book the sense of one long, engaging fireside story, perhaps told by a dangerous yet fascinating stranger you've run into while far from home. His story – his life – is completely alien to the common experience, yet Roberts manages to show us a little bit of ourselves in this tale. In his words; 'So it begins, this story, like everything else – with a woman, a city, and a little bit of luck.'