Chopper Reid meets Rudyard Kipling

It’s one of those books that you get recommendations on from many sources, but for one very important reason you never start it: it’s over 900 pages long. However, once you begin, you somehow finish it in a week.

Shantaram

Australian bad boy’s overseas adventure

Melbourne’s own Gregory David Roberts is a criminal, but a writer first. This is what allows the first paragraph to draw you in, and the first page to engage you with his story. And what an amazing story it is.

It falls into the genre of “fictional biography”. I guess this means that you can’t take everything he writes seriously, but this does detract from the power of the biography. I found myself wondering whether particular elements could possibly be true – a question you would not ask if it was either “fiction” or “biography”.

Certainly, Roberts seems to have more adventure in the few years he was in India that any one person deserves to have, and probably more than several people put together could even manage. And when you consider how many languages he learns, how many deep philosophers he encounters, and how he is somehow still alive, it stretches incredible towards incredulity.

I choose to believe that he really did do it all, or at least close enough to it. Others may not. But, it makes it easier to seriously consider the ethical positions he raises, analyses and resolves. I like that sort of thing.

Another thing I liked was how it gave me a bit of an insight into the life of someone like Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks. There are a couple of things that are common to them both, and Hicks is such a thinly represented character in Australian media that it can be hard to understand the motivations of such a person. This book provides a glimpse into the background required.

I think someone once said that the best literature is something like a shaggy dog story. I’m not sure this is the best literature, but it’s one of the best shaggy dog stories I’ve read.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

It turns out that Roberts has now gone back to India. According to his book’s website, he’s now doing charitable work in Mombay.

2 thoughts on “Chopper Reid meets Rudyard Kipling”

  1. I take great pride in being one of those recommendations – and you’re right, I too was amazed at how a daunting 900 page book actually got devoured so quickly. I would actually argue that it could be among the best literature. Sure, the story itself is amazing, but I found a lot of his prose breathtakingly beautiful. He draws characters with such incredible empathy and his philosophical musings (of which there are many) I found really challenging and thought provoking. Surely, these are the qualities of great literature?

  2. For me, Literature is that group of books that people could one day end up studying in school. I thought it was a great read, but I don’t think it would make a great study. :)

    On the other hand, I think it could make a good book-club book (for those clubs willing to invest the time in something of its length). But some of the best book-club books aren’t exactly Literature either.

    Oh, and thanks for the recommendation!

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