Book Club: Shantaram

My friend beamed that she had ‘The Best’ book to give me, I grimaced as she thrust all 944 pages of what was to become hours of my future into my hands. I’m not a fast reader. I love reading but I also daydream whilst I read without noticing. I daydream about what I’m reading & life’s trivial mundanities. I also have a grotesque fear of commitment. This book was going to rival the longest relationships I’ve maintained in the past year. The thought was enough to make me shiver. I gave my friend a fixated smile & nod of acknowledgement as I acted my way out of my disdain.

The book was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

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A sunny evening, just the two of us at Oriental Bay, Wellington, NZ

This is the true story of an Australian who escaped prison & fled to India where he immersed himself in the Indian lifestyle & culture. The main character builds friendships, relationships & forges a life for himself out of nothing. It is a very dramatic account & at parts it is overwhelming & barely believable.

I read this whilst working in Wellington, NZ & travelling the South Island. (Apologies to anyone waiting on a drink at JJ Murphy’s bar when I was distractedly gripped on the last page of a chapter!). Everywhere I went I was met with wide eyes of fellow back packers gazing lovingly at my copy of the international bestseller, which I had never heard of, & declaring it an amazing story.

It only took a chapter for me to regret my initial indifference about being bestowed this book. I was hooked instantly & cursed it for being so heavy as I took it everywhere. Any given moment on the Stray bus or in a hostel if I wasn’t throwing myself out of a plane or riddled with anxiety pre bungee jump, eating or sleeping you would be sure I was reading Shantaram. It is an exceptionally engaging book you won’t want to put down. Be warned, you may turn into an antisocial troll disassociated with real life. I speak from experience.

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My poolside companion in Nelson, NZ

With 80 pages left & a fellow backpacker keen to inherit the book before leaving Queenstown the next morning, I finished it quickly while my friends waited impatiently for us to go out. As I passed it to my friend she held it like a treasure keen to get lost in the pages. I checked how she was getting on with a week later & she said she was the most antisocial backpacker who just curled up with her book at every opportunity. I nodded knowingly.

I loved getting sucked into Shantaram’s world. As I am so easily influenced, India is now topping my list of where to go next – minus the life of crime. I am looking forward to it being made into a movie. Warner Brothers acquired the film rights to the book in 2004 for $2 million, yet production has been stalled over the years for various reasons. I am from the belief that movies are rarely, if ever, better than the books although I am excited to see this one come to life!

Shantaram is currently available on Amazon.co.uk for £7.69.

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