If the mob had me on speed dial, I’d also say I made it all up…

6 Feb

Last Saturday night was one of those that party people like my ex-self would find categorically ‘sad’. I stayed in and read. In fact, except for sulking my way through some shopping, I stayed in and read pretty much the whole day. Book lovers would know the feeling – you find a novel that is both so long and so good that you have no choice but to put life on hold.

In this case, it was Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram, recommended to me by my friend and fellow bibliophile, Jana. At almost a 1000 pages, I think it’s the longest novel I’ve ever finished (unless Harry Potter was longer? I’ve never been able to get into Tolkien, so embarrassingly Lord of the Rings doesn’t feature on my list).

Anyway – the book is bloody brilliant and I would recommend it to anyone who:

• Is obsessed with reading books about India (that’s me);

Likes their love stories to be complicated, messy and not have one dimensional happily-ever-afters;

• Likes their adventure stories to be layered and rich and just plain hardcore;

• Has a morbid fascination with the mob (if this is ever made into a movie, they better pick someone hot for the mobster called Abdullah); and

If you like your messed-up bad boys, you've just found your favourite character

If you like your messed-up bad boys, you’ve just found your favourite character

• Lives a humdrum desklife and uses such cheats as books and movies for some
vicarious excitement (that’s me again).

Also – to anyone who would like to know what life is like as a gun smuggler / heroin addict / slum dweller / mobster / prisoner / too many characters to fathom for one lifetime. Because the writer’s life is friggin CRAZY.

For those of you who don’t know – the book is Roberts’s semi-autobiographical account of a decade of living in India after escaping from an Australian prison. I’m not going to write a review – there are literally hundreds on goodreads.com – but suffice it to say that I cannot think of another book that combines such a rich plot with writing that brims with such descriptive poignancy and wisdoms.

The setting of our tale

The setting of our tale

What I wish to write about is my disappointment at realising that the book is semi-autobiographical (and then to leave you with some quotes that made me think).

You see, I spent the whole way through under the impression that the novel was pretty much the truth. Sure, us writers all like to edit and embellish our tales as we go along, but for the most part the truth stays intact.

Not so here. I suppose it shouldn’t matter – the book is amazing regardless of whether it is true – but it lost some of the magic it held for me after I found out that the characters were made up.

According to the writer, the events are based in truth, but the characters – so well written and so damn real – are not. Despite the events being pretty darn exciting, the heart of this book is its characters. Also – the events are so closely interlinked with the people involved that I am still finding it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the two can be separated.

I’m especially disappointed that Karla is imaginary. Without giving anything away, she is Roberts’s love interest and the biggest reason I kept reading – like a typical girl, I wanted the guy to get out of jail / get off heroin / not get gangrenous frostbite in Afghanistan just so he could finally get back to friggin Karla. And now I find out Karla doesn’t even exist?? It sucks, I tell you.

Kind of what Karla is supposed to look like

Kind of what Karla is supposed to look like

(Karla is also the wisest and wittiest imaginary woman you’ll ever know – to realise that her words were actually made up by a male writer sucks ass.)

What Roberts claims her to be...

What Roberts claims her to be…

My personal theory is that Roberts is lying to us. I may just be in denial (or I may have become like those deluded old tannies who cannot separate fact and fiction, hobbling up to hapless soap actors to kick them in the shins when their character did something sucky on last night’s episode), but hear me out.

The characters MUST have been based in fact. There is simply too much woven into them not to be. If Roberts wanted to write fiction, why choose his own life as a template? More importantly, why link his own story squarely to the wills, worlds and intentions of other characters? A major theme in the book is that of fate and predetermination – of being connected to plans and people and purpose. Yet we are expected to believe that the events were real, but the people were not…

Our life stories are written by the people in our lives and how we interact with them – without the people described in the narrative, Roberts’s personal life events (the true part, he says), would never have come about.

Again – he may just be one helluva creator of characters, but I just don’t buy it.

I’m going to choose to believe that he never thought his text would take off and sell like it has, and was then forced to make a statement to protect the people he wrote about. They’re not exactly Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh – even Karla killed a guy, and the rest of them did worse.

All I’m saying is – if the mafia had my number on speed dail, I’d lie to protect them, too…

If this guy tells you to lie, you damn well do it

If this guy tells you to lie, you damn well do it

***
Now read these quotes slowly and let them sink in. There is SO much more – but I think this post is long enough already…

“There’s a truth deeper than experience. It’s beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabhakar told it to me, just as I’m telling it to you now.”

“Indians are the Italians of Asia and vice versa. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is the music inside the body and music is the food inside the heart. Amore or Pyar makes every man a poet, a princess of peasant girl if only for second eyes of man and woman meets.” (I love this!)

“If fate doesn’t make you laugh, then you don’t get the joke.”

“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said, ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds and there are bad deeds. Men are just men —it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good or evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone —the noblest of man alive or the most wicked— has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”

“Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting.”

“The truth is a bully we all pretend to like.”

“Some of the worst wrongs, were caused by people who tried to change things.”

***
Absolutely friggin brilliant book.

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2 Responses to “If the mob had me on speed dial, I’d also say I made it all up…”

  1. countingducks February 14, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    If it cheers you up, I read the same book, had the same emotions and felt a bit cheated just like you. MInd you, at even half-true the tale is bloody amazing

    • blah blah blonde February 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Agreed! One helluva life story + a crazy imagination = Shantaram :).

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