“And from the pink and purple palette of the perished evening, a blue-black night rose up around us as we rode. We plunged with the sea-wind into tunnels of light. The robe of sunset slipped from the shoulders of the city. Lisa’s hands moved on my hard skin like the sea; like the surging, swarming caress of the sea. And for a moment, as we rode together, we were one: one desire, one promise dissolving into compromise, one mouth tasting the trickle of danger and delight. And something – it might’ve been love, or fear – goaded me to the choice, putting whispers in the warming wind: This is as young and free as you’ll ever be”. Pg 581, Shantaram, G.D. Roberts
Is that not just the most perfectly crafted paragraph you have ever had the pleasure to read?
In case you do not recognise the author or title, I’m referring to the book labelled simply “A Masterpiece” by The Age – Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, an epic 933 page tome which paints an indelible picture of paradoxes about this, his life story. How a man with a nurturing heart, but hardened soul came in search of freedom.
Ironically, for a man who was guilty of committing crimes against society, both here and abroad, you truly cannot help but be charmed by Roberts. He’s the first to admit he isn’t perfect, and the undertone of the entire book (yes ALL 933 pages) seeks forgiveness and acknowledges the hefty price he has pain in a personal sense for his crimes. Succumbing to a heroin addiction at a young age, it ultimately cost him his freedom, and after staging a daring escape from a Victorian maximum-security prison in 1980 (right over the front wall, if you don’t mind) all contact with his loved ones, including his young daughter.
We meet Roberts when he is searching (furtively, as he is Australia’s most wanted fugitive) for his place in the world; and it comes in the shape of the thriving cultural metropolis that is Bombay. A vast array of characters infiltrate his well written world; you’ll warm immediately to the unforgettable Prabaker and surrender a smile each time he charms us with his effusive behaviour; Karla will leave you with a million unanswered questions, while the slum dwellers steal your heart with their humility and simplicity. You will mull over the makeshift family connections that he establishes with father figure Abdel Khader Khan, and his brother in arms, Abdullah Taheri.
The reading journey is a long one, full of tempestuous twists and turns – and much gritty detail which can make for weary reading at times.
But, if you have a spare month or three and feel the need to tackle a hefty, eye opening tome, I beseech you, let it be Shantaram. This powerful piece of prose will send you on a spellbinding cultural and emotional sojourn that will leave you breathless by book’s end!