When my dad told me that SHANTARAM was the best book he'd read in months, I knew I had to read it, right away. See, my dad reads even more than I do, and "best book in months" is very high praise coming from him, because he can read an awful lot of books in just a few months--for him to call SHANTARAM the best book he'd read in months is roughly the equivelent to a normal person saying it was the best book they'd read this year.
To have an idea of what SHANTARAM is about, you need to know a little about Gregory David Roberts: he was sentenced to nineteen years in an Australian prison for a series of armed robberies; he later escaped from prison and spent ten years on the run in Bombay. What happens in Bombay is more or less what SHANTARAM is about, and the fact that the book is based loosely on the author's life is probably a saving grace, because though SHANTARAM is a novel, not a memoir, the autobiographical aspect of the book lends it some crediblility that serves the story well. Without that credibility, I don't think I'd believe a word Roberts says.
The events of the book are so bizarre, so relentless and brutal, that the things this guy does, and things that are done to him, border on the unbelievable. I mean this in a good way, but if a novelist tried to convince me that all of that stuff actually happened to a fictional character I'd roll my eyes and laugh. The fact that some of this stuff (and more) verifyably happened to Roberts makes me take the whole book a lot more seriously--and kept me reading with wide eyes.
(I must warn you, though: don't go looking Roberts up until you're a good way into the book, unless you want to know the key points of what happens. You might look up a photo of him, if you like. That's entertaining.)
So what was so fascinating about SHANTARAM? Why, the main character. Lin is one hell of a character, that's for sure, and though I still don't know what to make of him, I like him. Most of the other characters were incredibly strong as well, especially Prabaker, Abdullah, Didier, and Khader Khan. I won't lie, though--I never cared much for Karla.
It did take me awhile to get into Roberts' writing style (he's really into reflections on the nature of love and freedom and so on; also, some of his metaphors took a little getting used to), but by the end of all 900 pages, he'd won me over, not least because he managed to resolve everything so well. I have to admit that, with all the plotlines, sub-plotlines and sub-sub-plotlines, I was skeptical that he'd be able to bring everything together at the end of the book, but he did. The book ended well, and I was glad.
Do I think this book is for everyone? No. Do I think you should read it anyway? Definately. It's a good one. Also, there's a rumor that Johnny Depp will be producing the movie version soon, and I sincerely hope that he takes the role of Didier and not the role of Lin. He would be an excellent Didier, but a terrible Lin.