The first thought i had when one of my friends lent me Shantaram was – crap, that’s a fat book. when i read on the cover that it was paced like a thriller, i was happy that at least it would be done quickly.
SO! Let me be brief, while the book goes on at length. It could have done with a better editor, and definitely one who is not in love with adjectives so much. The adjectives and similes and metaphors get cloying after a while, a bit like the outside of the perfume shop in the duty-free section of the airport(see what i did there, something like that for 900+pages).
The story follows a meandering path of man escapes from prison and reaches Mumbai, and gets involved immediately in nasty habits and falls in love and then falls into various shady parts of the underworld while learning the local lingo and then goes to fight in Afghanistan and comes back relatively unharmed and is part of the new order. oh, he maintains his moral superiority by not killing anyone, though he does maim quite a few. and then he kinda sorta gets the girl at the end. what a guy! but strangely, you feel more sympathy for the supporting characters than the titular hero of the book.
maybe it’s the fact that i have never been to Mumbai in my life, or that we have experienced a bit too much of Mumbai in our culture, but the setting of the novel also does not do much, though it is probably the best aspect of the book as far as the writing goes.
The book is more than a bit naive in that what is supposed to be praiseworthy comes off as condescending, and the plentiful insults and curses are transliterated in a way as to have very little impact, at least for someone with a native tongue. Sadly, the trend holds for all the Indian language words and phrases, of which there are plenty. There is a deep and frustrating inconsistency in the way the language is handled and it ruined the book for me, in general. And the final annoyance are the fragments of conversations that float in from nowhere, just to illuminate some scene. the plot device is overused, as it is bound to be when you start using it within the first 20 pages and grinds one’s gears after a while.
Overall, however, Shantaram is a fun read provided you are willing to let a few things slide. but it is not one i will be re-reading in the near future. It did not seem to convey any deep meaning, nor did it seem to have any layers to it that were not all revealed by the time the book ended. Maybe i will re-read it for thoroughness, but enthusiasm on that front is weak, as the opening of the book is as flowery as a tulip field in Holland about this time of the year.