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Thoughts on “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts (Audiobook)

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a book about which I’ve been curious for a while. My husband mentioned it; my sister was reading it. Then, several months ago, I read Diane’s review of the audio version–all 43 hours of it–on Bibliophile By the Sea. I decided to go that route and borrowed Shantaram from the library in late February.

About the Book:

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (audiobook cover)Shantaram is, at least partly, autobiographical. I read it without knowing much about the author’s life, only later finding out how much of it was blended into the novel. It’s the story of a nameless man who arrives in Bombay after escaping from an Australian prison. He assumes the identity on the passport he’s using, but the name–Mr. Lindsey–is quickly shortened to Linbaba (or just Lin) by Prabaker, the delightful guide Lin encounters shortly after arriving.

What follows is Lin’s journey through Bombay’s underworld–the slums, the mafia, the drug trade, the violence–with a generous smattering of reflection and philosophy. His friends are Indians and foreigners. He learns Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu. He falls in love with India and carves out a life for himself amongst its people. Shantaram traces his progress.

My Thoughts:

I have different opinions with regards to each aspect of Shantaram on audio. The reader, Humphrey Bower, is quite possibly the best narrator I’ve ever encountered. On the other hand, though, I didn’t find myself reveling in particularly stunning passages as many of Shantaram‘s readers have. I didn’t like Lin and wasn’t much compelled to care too deeply about him. But I’ll start with the positive.

Humphrey Bower is simply amazing. In fact, he was so good I’m considering listening to other things he’s read, even though I’ve never heard of them, just because he reads them. The book’s in first person, and Bower’s Australian, so Lin’s accent comes naturally to him. But in the course of the book, he does at least ten other accents impeccably: French, German, American, Canadian, Italian, Spanish, British Arabic, and more, not to mention several accents from around India. Shantaram is brimming with characters, yet Bower managed to distinguish them magnificently. I could identify the important characters just by the voice Bower used for each. He even had a different way of speaking for when Lin was conversing with other characters versus when he was narrating. It was amazing.

The book itself was fine. Surprisingly, I rarely felt bored or like the story was dragging, despite its length. I did get tired of all the physical descriptions of people. Every person Lin encountered had to be described, which got a bit annoying, as rarely did his or her appearance have anything to do with the story. Every woman he met was “beautiful.” There were long passages that I think were meant to be soul-searching and introspective but which struck me as cliched and insincere. (Which might be due to my dislike of the main character; I’ll get to that next.) Overall, though, the story kept moving at a good clip. I especially liked the first half, where the characters were more likeable and Lin’s activities less dubious.

Most of my issues with Shantaram lie with Lin himself. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t like him. He portrays himself as being a very good, loyal, principled, humble, and so on, but I never saw those qualities in him. I didn’t believe his revelations. I didn’t feel emotionally involved in his journey. He’d make a mistake and I’d think, “Serves you right.” He’d atone and claim he’d learned something, and I’d roll my eyes. There were certainly characters in Shantaram that I liked very much–Prabaker, especially, and the bear–but Lin, unfortunately, wasn’t one of them.

So. Bottom line? If you’re an audiobook listener and love good narrators, check Shantaram out (or at least Humphrey Bower). If you like a wild ride of a story, I think you’d enjoy Shantaram in either print or on audio. If you need to like your main character, or if drugs and violence are issues for you, I would not recommend Shantaram. Oh, and if 43 hours sounds overkill to you, there is an abridged version available through Audible.com that comes in at just over 18 hours!

Those are my thoughts. Check out Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts on GoodReads or LibraryThing, listen to an Audible sample, or read other bloggers’ reviews:

Did I miss yours? Please let me know!

Your Turn!

What books have left you with opposing reactions? If you listen to audiobooks, are there narrators you’ll listen to no matter what they’re reading?

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  • http://lostinagoodstory.blogspot.com/ Joanna

    My husband read this and really enjoyed it, but I don’t really like violence and drugs in books (or movies) so I’ve steered clear. Plus it’s size is so daunting! I can’t believe you listened to something for 43 hours… it would have taken me months and I would have gotten bored! 😉

    • Erin

      I expected to get bored! It’s a pretty fast-paced novel, though, and the reader was just so good. I listen to audiobooks when I’m walking, doing things around the house, and driving, and I had a 10-hour car trip in March, so I managed to get through! But yeah…it’s a daunting book!

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I read this a long time ago, and can’t remember much of how I felt about it other than remembering that I really liked it. I know they were filming a movie version with Johnny Depp starring as Lin, but that never got past the filming stage, and it seems like that just went away for some reason. I am glad to hear that you liked the narrator so much though. I love audio books that have incredible narrators.

    • Erin

      Oh man, Johnny Depp would be PERFECT! He might actually make me like Lin. Just imagining Lin as Johnny Depp makes me like him better. Too bad it went away!

  • http://www.eclectic-eccentric.com Trisha

    I think it’s fascinating that you will listen to books just because of the narrator. I really wish I liked audiobooks…

    • Erin

      Well…not ANY book…but I will listen to a mediocre one for the narrator, it’s true! Whereas a bad narrator will make me stop listening to an excellent book.

      It took me a while to get into audiobooks. They’re not for everyone, certainly.

  • http://www.fizzythoughts.com softdrink

    Can I just say how much I love the title? I could probably listen to someone just say Shantaram over and over and over again.

    • http://www.fizzythoughts.com softdrink

      Umm, maybe not for 43 hours though.

      • Erin

        Ha! If anyone could say Shantaram over and over for 43 hours without me getting bored, it’d be Humphrey Bower.

  • http://vishytheknight.wordpress.com Vishy

    Wonderful review, Erin! I read ‘Shantaram’ many years back and I liked it very much at that time. Those were the days when I picked a book without worrying about the size, and now, when I think back, I think it was one of the thickest books that I have ever read. I liked Roberts’ prose and found his insights interesting. I can see your point though about not being able to like the main character – it is difficult to like a drug trader and addict who has escaped from prison and becomes part of a criminal gang and indulges in violent activities. Interesting to know about Humphrey Bower. I rarely hear audio books but I will try to hear a book read by Humphrey Bower sometime.

    Thanks for the wonderful review :)

    • Erin

      Yes, that’s probably why I didn’t like Lin! I didn’t trust him…hard to trust a person with such a sketchy past. I just finished listening to another book, The Imposter by Damon Galgut, read by Humphrey Bower, and it was wonderfully read!

  • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

    FORTY-TRHEE house?? Goodness gracious. Did you listen to the 18 hour edition? I’m listening to 23 tracks of Mark Twain’s autobiography right now (I guess probably 24 hours in the end) and I wonder if I’ll ever finish! 😉

    • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

      Can you tell I’m sleep deprived. Obviously meant FORTY-THREE HOURS? 😉

      • Erin

        Heh…I didn’t even notice the mistype :-) No, I always feel like abridged audiobooks are cheating somehow, so I skipped the 18-hour edition in favor of the 43-hour one. How’s the Twain autobiography? If it’s good, maybe I’ll use it for my classics project!

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