Gregory David Roberts lays a doozy of a book on us in Shantaram. An Australian convict flees maximum security incarceration in Australia. En route to Munich, he gets off the plane in Bombay and disappears. But how can a foreigner survive the mean streets of Bombay and avoid the law? David tells us everything in this book, a thinly veiled autobiography, wherein he goes by the name of Lindsay, or Linbaba as he ends up being called. Linbaba sees the usual dope haunts and dens that the hippies go to, but is far too intelligent to be reduced to a cabbage in this, one of the world’s densest cities, a city that truly never sleeps. He makes a living selling drugs to other clueless foreigners and even plays the part of benevolent saviour by living in a slum, but ultimately gets sucked into the whirling maelstrom of crime that lurks just below the pitted veneer of Bombay.
One thing leads to another and Linbaba journeys west to fight in the holy war against the Russians, as part of the Mujahideen, an organization not unknown to the crime kingpin who’s recruited him. This is on top of the usual black market dealings of forged passports, money laundering and general mayhem that Linbaba is responsible for. The war doesn’t go too well for Linbaba and he ends up back in Bombay, where the recounting ends.
At first, the book seems a little simplistic, even vapid. But it rapidly grows in substance and stature, until you realize that David is a writer of no mean ability. The book is well crafted, and though aided by an extremely strong plot, Roberts’ talent shines through in spades. There are parts where you shake your head and wonder what the author is thinking, as blinded by emotion as he is. But underneath it all, Roberts is a thinking man with insights into what makes us tick. One hardened violent criminal plus the modern people of an ancient land equals a book you will find hard to put down.