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At the start of this massive, thrillingly undomesticated potboiler, a young Australian man bearing a false New Zealand passport that gives his name as "Lindsay" flies to Bombay some time in the early '80s. On his first day there, Lindsay meets the two people who will largely influence his fate in the city. One is a young tour guide, Prabaker, whose gifts include a large smile and an unstoppably joyful heart. Through Prabaker, Lindsay learns Marathi (a language not often spoken by gora, or foreigners), gets to know village India and settles, for a time, in a vast shantytown, operating an illicit free clinic. The second person he meets is Karla, a beautiful Swiss-American woman with sea-green eyes and a circle of expatriate friends. Lin's love for Karla and her mysterious inability to love in return gives the book its central tension. "Linbaba's" life in the slum abruptly ends when he is arrested without charge and thrown into the hell of Arthur Road Prison. Upon his release, he moves from the slum and begins laundering money and forging passports for one of the heads of the Bombay mafia, guru/sage Abdel Khader Khan. Eventually, he follows Khader as an improbable guerrilla in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. There he learns about Karla's connection to Khader and discovers who set him up for arrest. Roberts, who wrote the first drafts of the novel in prison, has poured everything he knows into this book and it shows. It has a heartfelt, cinemascope feel. If there are occasional passages that would make the very angels of purple prose weep, there are also images, plots, characters, philosophical dialogues and mysteries that more than compensate for the novel's flaws. A sensational read, it might well reproduce its bestselling success in Australia here. Agent, Joe Regal Literary. (Oct. 18) Forecast: This is a novel with electric appeal, heightened by Roberts's exotic backstory (see q&a, p. 36). There should be plenty of media interest in the book and its author, and its sheer heft will make it stand out in bookstores. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Having ditched his revolutionary ideals for heroin, our narrator ends up imprisoned in Australia, then escapes to an evidently vividly depicted Bombay to smuggle drugs and arms. What's really scary is that Roberts has based his first novel on personal experience. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
With the grand sweep and scale of a Bollywood movie, Shantaram is unlike any other Australian novel for quite some time. It recounts the experiences of Lin, a loosely fictionalised character based on the author, the so-called Building Society Bandit who escaped from a Victorian maximum-security prison in 1980 and fled to India. Lin moves in different circles in steamy Bombay, from indolent expats on the run from reality to ever-smiling slum dwellers who cannot escape from their plight. His adventures take him to the homes of Bombay Mafioso, through the hellhole of the Colaba police station and into Afghanistan running guns to the mujaheddin. Although at times Roberts' text is over- written and his dialogue stilted, this is a rip-roaring read. At 933 pages the book stands out, but it is all the more remarkable because it is based on second-to-none, first-hand experience. Full of jailhouse philosophy, human frailty and resilience, Sufi wisdom and street-fighting tactics, Shantaram is by turns inspiring, hair raising and poignant. This warts-and-all Indian epic details the myriad struggles, triumphs, heartbreaks and joys of life on the subcontinent-- expect it to become a must-read for backpackers and long-haul airline passengers, as was The Beach. William Gourlay is a Melbourne-based editor, reviewer and sometime travel writer. C. 2003 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors