Shantaram – A Book I was Meant to Read

I want to tell you a story – A little more than a decade ago, I was a tanned beach boy living in Hawaii. I met a tourist girl and she was looking for an island romance so she invited me to dinner. I wanted to sleep with her – I thought – so I … Continue reading “Shantaram – A Book I was Meant to Read”

I want to tell you a story –

A little more than a decade ago, I was a tanned beach boy living in Hawaii. I met a tourist girl and she was looking for an island romance so she invited me to dinner. I wanted to sleep with her – I thought – so I accepted her invitation. In those days I was desperate for intimacy but I was under the mistaken impression that meaningless uncommittal sex and intimacy could be the same thing. I was finding a good bit of the former and very little of the latter – to some extent because often when I would find the latter – I would push the former onto it and likewise I missed a good bit of the former by burdening it with the latter.

What I truly sought was spiritual, emotional, and intellectual intimacy but I kept messing it up with sexual intimacy. This isn’t a story of that – it’s just the oppossite. This particular girl was on vacation and she wanted a no strings attached sexual romp but I screwed that up – over dinner I dove into deeper and heavier subjects- loosened with a few drinks I waxed philosophical/spiritual – she had a deeper nature which she didn’t want to share – I dug and pushed and finally exasperated she suggested a moonlit walk down a deserted beach – the perfect last night in Hawaii for her and now I realize she wanted nothing more than to make love on the beach before getting on a plane and going back to her real life. She had opened up to me too much though and I found myself more excited to learn from her spiritual and philosophical insights than to kiss her delicioius lips.

I think she gave up and we sat under a coconut tree in the moonlight talking until it was time to go. I invited her to my apartment but by this point, I had gone too far in finding out who she really was for her to let me see her being someone she really wasn’t. And the next day we left – and we never met again. I don’t remember her name and she most likely doesn’t remember mine. I don’t even remember all that we talked about – but I remember her saying she had started to read a book in Hawaii and was so captivated by the opening paragraph that she had committed it to memory.

“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. I realized somehow, through the screaming in my mind that even in that shackled bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.”

It impacted me as well, but to be honest, I didn’t remember the quote or the name of the book, but only the spirit of the quote – so – later, when she was gone with no contact information and I was looking for the book that had so affected her – I was unable to find it. Instead, more than a decade later – the book found me. My aunt, the one who has given me so much thought and spirit provoking literature through the years handed me the book with several others and without comment. It was a large book – nearly a thousand pages and with a 2-year old and the struggle to make ends meet in our new home country – the USA (my old home country, by the way) – I didn’t touch it for more than a year – finally, looking for something to read I picked it up and flicked to the first page and there it was – those words – those powerful, important words.

“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. I realized somehow, through the screaming in my mind that even in that shackled bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.”

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a roller coaster of a book filled with hard won wisdom and insight from a man who has led a life that most people only think happens in movies – not heart warming movies, but powerful movies. This is a novel but there is more truth to it than most novels can claim. Like the protaganist, Roberts escaped prison in Australia and fled to India where he worked with the Bombay mafia and eventually was caught and returned to prison where he served out his sentence and wrote Shantaram.

I am grateful to that girl for priming my brain with his words, grateful to my aunt for delivering the book, and grateful to the universe for finding the right time to deliver it. There was so much in this book that spoke to me – not just the opening line and the theme of forgiveness but also the theme of redemption and the idea that sometimes we can do the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason. I could go on – but I won’t. I only recommend that you read it.

Here is a link to get Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

shantaram

Note: I intentionally wrote the above without having read any reviews or looked at the author’s website or even to have read more about the author than his dust jacket bio – now I’ve done a bit of digging. It’s astounding how many people HATE this book – but they have some valid points – none the less – the book is too long, the characters are mostly one dimensional, and there are some serioius prose problems. The biggest reason why most of them seem to hate it though is because of Roberts himself and how he wrote this work of fiction as a way of aggrandizing himself with an alternate fictional history – I make no beef with the valid points – but I only want to add – this is a work of fiction, not a biography. As such, I think it paints those themes of redemption and forgiveness beautifully. I would not want to live the life of Roberts nor the life of his character Lin. I still think the book is a worthy read.