I am revisiting this book. I was describing it to a friend yesterday and I felt compelled to share here the first three paragraphs of the book (essentially – the first page). I was hooked after the first page. It’s a beautiful effort and based upon the author’s outlaw experiences as an international fugitive and Australia’s most wanted man.
There are a lot of stories about the author and in the interweaving of these with the poetic license he has obviously employed to obfuscate reality in the book, it is hard to tell where the the truth lies. However, a brief (if necessarily incomplete and potentially fallacious) telling of his tale would be this:
He was a student at a University in Melbourne. His marriage fell apart. He turned to heroin and became addicted. He engaged in armed robbery to support his addiction. He was known as “The Gentleman Bandit” as he used to use impeccable manners and dress in a 3-piece suit while he robbed. He was eventually caught and sentenced to a long term in Melbourne’s Pentridge prison. He suffered extensively in that jail. He and another man escaped over the front wall of the jail (!) and he fled the country. He eventually ends up in Mumbai, which is where the story begins. He becomes involved in with the Mumbai mafia. He has many adventures and falls in and out of love, nearly dies in a cave in Afghanistan, returns to heroin addiction for a period of time, and much more.
He earns the name “Shantaram” from a friend’s mother when he visits their village. It is a Marathi word which means “Man of Peace”.
I won’t even try to do this book justice, but it was seriously one of the best I have read in a long time. The story, the writing style, the man – fascinating. I can not recommend it highly enough. Every single person I lent my copies to absolutely loved it.
5 lotus leaves out of 5 for my favourite book of the last ten to fifteen years.
The author currently lives in Mumbai and is creatively engaged in assisting the local community there.
By GREGORY DAVID ROBERTS
Published: December 26, 2004
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. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
In my case, it’s a long story, and a crowded one. I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison. When I escaped from that prison, over the front wall, between two gun-towers, I became my country’s most wanted man. Luck ran with me and flew with me across the world to India, where I joined the Bombay mafia. I worked as a gunrunner, a smuggler, and a counterfeiter. I was chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed, and starved. I went to war. I ran into the enemy guns. And I survived, while other men around me died. They were better men than I am, most of them: better men whose lives were crunched up in mistakes, and thrown away by the wrong second of someone else’s hate, or love, or indifference. And I buried them, too many of those men, and grieved their stories and their lives into my own.
But my story doesn’t begin with them, or with the mafia: it goes back to that first day in Bombay. Fate put me in the game there. Luck dealt the cards that led me to Karla Saaranen. And I started to play it out, that hand, from the first moment I looked into her green eyes. So it begins, this story, like everything else-with a woman, and a city, and a little bit of luck.
A larger snippet of the book is available here.