This book surprises in lots of different ways. It is written by a fugitive from justice and ex-armed robber. This criminal gang-member describes his life and loves with such brilliant imagery that it soon becomes apparent that he is in the wrong profession.

The thing that ties the book together is his love for Karla who he describes many times, for example, “Her eyes, pale with moonlight; her eyes, the green of water lilies after the rain; her long hair, black as forest river stones; her hair that was like holding the night itself in the wrap of my fingers; her lips, starred with secret whispers. Beautiful. And I loved her.”

His guide on arrival in Mumbai (Bombay) is Prabaker who becomes his close friend bringing him into his family and helping him learn to speak Marathi. The descriptions of characters such as Prabaker are drawn in such a way, you become sucked into the book hoping that the people involved in the story survive.

Because of the authors medical training he finds work as a doctor in a slum where he lives and works. His love for his patients and the people that he lives cheek and jowl with really comes across in the text. His life takes a turn for the worst when he is captured and interned in Arthur Road Prison. He is eventually freed and joins the Bombay mafia as a counterfeiter.

As you read on you will learn how his life of crime started. You might, as I did, start to ask yourself what is a crime. The word has a different meaning dependent upon whom you are speaking with. It is the state that decides the severity of various offences and enforces the law but they might not always get it right.

The book reminded me of Papillon a memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière. There are similarities, both are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment in prisons and both escape. There must be a better way of dealing with crime than prisons that dehumanise and teach people to be brutal in order to survive.

The author becomes a Mujahedeen fighter in Afghanistan fighting against the Russian military. The account is excellent I haven’t read anything similar elsewhere.

Whilst reading the book during a hotel breakfast I was approached by a man who asked me if I was reading Shantaram. When I replied, “yes.” He said, “One of the best books I have ever read. They are making a film about it, Joel Edgerton is playing the lead role.”

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is available from

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