I want to go to India. This was the recurrent thought that ran through my mind while reading this book. It’s been a dream I’ve had for a long time, to visit this country, to see the people, to taste the food, maybe even to wear a sari. Until then, Shantaram has provided me with a glimpse into the life of that fascinating country.
Shantaram is the story of an escaped convict from an Australian prison. Based on the author’s tumultuous life, the book tells the story of Lin, (a name he acquired after he arrived in India), a man in his thirties, who finds refuge in Mumbay in the early 80’s, where he befriends a local guide named Prabaker. With his help, Lin makes a new life for himself in the crowded city by working as a doctor in a slum, learns Hindu and Marathi, works for the local mafia, falls in love and manages to survive the hellish treatment of a local prison and a raging war in Afghanistan.
I loved this book from the first page, no, from the first paragraph. It was love at first sight, something I firmly believe in when it comes to books. This is a book with a heart – it made me smile and it made me cry. I read it on my way to and from work, on breaks, in the bus, at home in bed in the evenings. I put it down, overwhelmed by the whole story, then I picked it up again because I couldn’t get enough. I dived between the pages, hungry to see more, read more, live more. I took it with me on a 3 day trip to the beach and sat under the umbrella with the sound of the waves in my ears and the words in front of my eyes, oblivious to anything else; in it I saw the slums of the city, walked in Prabaker’s village where Lin learned how to speak Marathi, smelled the incense and the gun smoke, sang with the people and cried when friends died.
Some people live several lives in a few years. The challenges they go through, the sheer intensity of their experiences changes them in ways they never imagined.
A friend once said about life’s trials: “these things are sent to test us”. Every anguish, every joy, transforms us, makes us look at ourselves in a different light. Sometimes we like what we see and sometimes we don’t, but the thing that is true every time is that we always have to learn. We suffer and we smile, we make friends and then we lose them, but the important thing is what we are left with at the end.
The best book I’ve read so far this year.
*Read in July 2011