Posted by: istop4books | April 6, 2009

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I’m only about 250 pages into this 900+ page book, but already I’m blown away by the narrative. I wasn’t that enthused to read a book about India written by a non-Indian. What would this guy know anyway? He’d probably lived there in an ex-pat compound for two years while working for a big company. Well, I was totally and completely wrong. Roberts actually lived in a Bombay slum, he embraced the slum and the Indian culture that goes with it. He did what many of us would only do while holding our noses and long enough to snap the picture to say we did it. He walked, worked, lived and participated in life with the slumdogs of India.

As I’m not finished with the book, I’ll be putting a sampling of the many phrases I’ve run across during my reading with a few thoughts of mine to go with them:

Chapter 1, page 1, P1 first sentence:
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”
This is pretty much the outline for the book. Beyond the author’s amazing storytelling, this is at the heart of the message. And if this sentence doesn’t make you want to read the next and the next and the next, finishing the paragraph will.
“…the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.” Where did this guy acquire this sort of life learning? I suppose being chained to a wall while being tortured can make you think real fast about your life, but his ability to put his thoughts and feelings into words and weave a story around them is what sets this book apart.
Chapter 3, page 82
“There’s a truth that’s deeper than experience, beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know the truth is to share it, from heart to heart…”
So many of us, and I include myself, will wander through life’s experiences, watching them go by in the same way we watch a tv show. We get angry, sad or happy and move on. We become successful, meet our goals, plan our lives. Is he alluding to something deeper and more profound, where one actually takes an assertive part in the truth?

Chapter 5, page 124
“My culture had taught me all the wrong things well. So I lay completely still, and gave no reaction at all. But the soul has no culture. The soul has no nations. The soul has no colour or accent or way of life. The soul is forever. The soul is one. And when the heart has its moment of truth and sorrow, the soul can’t be stilled. “
Seems to me what the world needs now is more soul – less cultural differences. We’re all so hung up on our differences – within the soul is where we come together and can embrace not only our differences, but our similarities and find the common ground that unites us.

“One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”
When I read writing like this, something that makes me sit back and go, huh? And reread the passage, it spoils so many other writers for me, and makes me realize how amateurish my own thoughts truly are.
I had found this other quote recently, which I think is apropos: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” By May Sarton an American poet. I think this is what he is alluding to – without touching some sort of pain, it’s hard to find your own truth, and being alone, whether lonely or in solitude, can provide the quiet you need to hear your own heart.
Chapter 9, page 199
“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,” .. “It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men – it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone – the noblest man alive or the most wicked – has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”
I’m not sure that I agree with Roberts on this one – I don’t know that we’re all moving towards God or not, but I do agree that there are no good men or bad men. Just deeds which are partially good or bad. I’d like to think that everyone out there has a mother, and that every mother can find something to love in her son or daughter – even though that son or daughter may be despicable to humanity. And the reasons that some people do good deeds are not always intrinsic, the reason they do bad deeds is not always black and white.

Chapter 10, page 211: “The mouth forms more than just words, of course: it forms attitudes and moods and nuances of meaning, and those expressive hints were also missing. “
I read once that the words coming out of our mouth are 10% of what we say. The other 90% can be read in our face, expression, tone and body language.

Chapter 11, page 229
“because justice is a judgment that is both fair and forgiving. Justice is not done until everyone is satisfied, even those who offend us and must be punished by us.” “…justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”
Tell that to those who favor capital punishment.



  1. Wow, I want to read this book. Did you read The KiteRunner? Did you like it? I loved it!

  2. Thanks for your comment. It continues to be a wonderous book. The man can write a strong tale; there’s adventure, an exotic locale, love, yearning and all the stuff that a really good book should have. And then he throws in these philosophical bits and pieces that just make you sit up and take notice. He’s remarkable.

    The Kite Runner – yes I did read it and thought it was very good, an eye opener to a culture that most of us aren’t all that familiar with.

    One of the things I like best about these books is that without having to travel to these countries – something that would be awesome, but doubtful in this lifetime, I get a chance to peek into them and see what they’re all about. Great stuff!!

    Hope you enjoy the book as well!

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