A gripping epic from the Bombay underworld | AspenTimes.com

A gripping epic from the Bombay underworld

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How often do you read an author bio that describes the writer as a heroin addict, robber, counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner and person who established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers in Bombay?That’s Gregory David Roberts, author of “Shantaram.” And the book – his first novel – is a stunning 1,000-page epic, a fictionalized account of his life following his escape from a maximum-security prison in Australia and arrival in India. Published in 2003, “Shantaram” is scheduled to go into production later this year as a feature-length film starring Johnny Depp, due out in 2008. The screenplay is being adapted by Eric Roth, who wrote “The Good Shepherd,” “Munich” and “Ali.”

Don’t wait for the movie, though, because the book tells a story far too complicated and interesting to be caught on screen in a few short hours.Plus, the voice of the narrator should not be missed. Reading this book is like hearing a good friend tell a story that rolls with entrancing speed. At the same time, Roberts weaves in big ideas and characters that embody them.”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,” reads the first sentence of the novel, “but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”Most readers will never know Roberts’ world. He speaks about pain as matter-of-factly as others might speak of a day’s work. He talks of being a tough man who’s willing to fight for his life at a moment’s notice. And he enters situations that most couldn’t imagine. The reader joins Roberts as he navigates the slums of crime-ridden Bombay. There he finds love and friendship, along with the darker sides of life, in the underworld of one of the world’s largest cities.

He is the ultimate traveler, cut off from his past and with no knowledge of a possible future. Since he is ready to drop everything at any time, he is always alert to the happiness or friendship he may gain in a moment. Each day is taken merely for what it is.Shantaram provides for the reader a rich and detailed look into a world peopled with drug dealers, prostitutes, evil prison overseers, innocent slum-dwelling children and leaders of the Bombay mafia. For most readers, who will never enter that reality, it is possible to do so through the pages of Roberts’ book. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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