Set in Mumbai, India in the late 70s and early 80s, Shantaram is the semi-autobiographical story of Lin, an escaped Australian convict. Lin was serving nineteen years for armed robbery when he escaped over the prison walls, hopped a few planes, and wound up in Mumbai. What follows is a sweeping story that takes the reader from the slums in the shadows of the World Trade Centre to the palaces of the Indian mafia, from unincorporated villages with no power or running water to the caves and mountains of Afghanistan, from the shackles of Arthur Road Prison to the delicate freedom of Colaba, from Leopold's (which made me think of nothing so much as Rick's American Cafe) to the House of the Standing Babas.
To try to explain what this novel is about is futile, because it's about everything. It's about humans and relationships and friendships and torture and blood and redemption and enemies and philosophy and shame and loneliness and war and peace and money and poverty and power and betrayal and prison and suffering and perseverance and triumph and glory and life. And it's about love. At its heart, Shantaram is a love story, written to the country that Roberts fell in love with, written to the men who changed his life, written to the woman he loved, written to the friends who saved his life.
Roberts is a supremely gifted writer; his prose is superb and seductive. He holds nothing back, laying his heart shamelessly bare on every page. He will make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry, make you hopeful, make you think, and make you beg for more.