Shantaram

By: Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram is powerful, entrancing, and beautiful. At over 900 pages long, it's as thick as a dictionary, but the pages almost turned themselves—I read the book in a mere week. It's a work of fiction, as the characters and dialog were created by Roberts, but the unbelievable chain of events come directly from his life. From escaping maximum security prison to slum doctor to Indian gangster to fighting Russians in Pakistan, Roberts has lived one of the toughest, most fascinating of human lives. The story, the flow of prose, and the deep wells of philosophy put Shantaram near the top of the list of the best books I've ever read.

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I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in the shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them... And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.
A dream is a place where a wish and a fear meet.
I’d resisted it a few times, at first, but I soon learned that those obscure, unplanned journeys were invariably worthwhile, frequently interesting and enjoyable, and quite often important.
‘Khaderbhai is a man who makes the future,’ Abdullah concluded, as we stopped for a traffic signal. ‘Most of us—me and you, my brother—we wait for the future to come to us. But Abdel Khader Khan dreams the future, and then he plans it, and then he makes it happen. That is the difference between him and the rest of us.’
I protested and tried to fight him off, but many hands from the street assisted him, and I was pushed into the group of dancers. I surrendered to India, as I did every day, then, and as I still do, every day of my life, no matter where I am in the world. I danced, following Vikram’s steps, and the rest of the street cheered us on.
The difference, as with most things in life, lay in the motive and the means.
The contrast between those rusted, graceless hulks and the elegant wooden boats beside them spoke a history, a modern saga, a world story that moved from life at sea, as a romantic calling, to the profiteer’s cold, efficient lusting for the bottom line.
If you ask people why killing, or any other crime, is wrong, they will tell you that it is against the law, or the Bible, or the Upanishads, or the Koran, or the Buddha’s eight-fold path, or their parents, or some authority that tells them it is wrong. But they don’t know why it is wrong. It may be true, what they say, but they don’t know why it is true.
Every time I left the slum I felt the urge to let go and surrender to a simpler, poorer life that was yet richer in respect, and love, and a vicinal connectedness to the surrounding sea of human hearts.

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