Gregory David Roberts has led a rather adventurous life. His autobiographical debut novel, Shantaram, is a testament to that life. And, at over 900 pages it's a rather auspicious debut indeed.
This novel is a love story... Not of a man and woman (although there's a bit of that as well). It's a love story of a man, a city, and the people of that city.
Meet "Mr. Lindsay" (a caricature of the author)... An Aussie convict on a forged New Zealand passport landing at the airport in Bombay, India about to embark on a series of adventures designed to help him perpetuate his lack of detection by the authorities. In this long and carefully woven novel, "Lin" will be your guide to sides of Bombay seldom seen by the tourists.
From the moment Lindsay meets the Indian guide, Prabaker, he trusts him and a friendship is forged... a friendship that will grow into a "brotherhood" of sorts between the two men. Prabaker gives Lindsay the nickname which will stick with him for the remainder of the novel, "Linbaba."
The book is divided into several "parts" and the span of the novel covers several years and Linbaba's growth as a man and his friendships and relationships with the people he comes in contact with as he continues his flight from justice.
The ensemble of supporting characters are often just as strongly written as Linbaba and they really help move the story.
I'll refrain from going into too much detail. I started this novel knowing little about it and I tend to believe the less you know going into the novel the more you'll enjoy it and the surprises it has to offer.
The book is not without flaws, the prose is at times embarrassing, baring evidence of Roberts' relative inexperience as a writer. But his strengths-- his storytelling and character development are more than strong enough to outweigh his sometimes clumsy prose.