[Feature image: Adrian Scottow]

Title: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

The Skinny: Gregory David Roberts has led a pretty fascinating life. After breaking out of a prison in Australia, he makes his way to India where he quickly immerses himself into Bombay city. He meets Prabaker, a friendly local who leads Roberts into the underbelly of the city, where prostitutes collide with holy men, and beggars and lepers are menaces to society. He eventually settles into a slum, unwillingly becomes the slum’s doctor, and falls in love with a beautiful girl named Karla.

Some of the experiences in this book are so surreal it’s hard to believe they happened. I don’t even want to give away its contents, but it includes fending off massive packs of wild dogs and being beaten to near-death inside an Indian prison. This book was destroyed two times by prison guards who caught Roberts writing it.

Why you need to read it: You knew this review was coming sooner or later. Everyone and their dog has read Shantaram these days, and it’s not hard to see why. This book is so extravagant, it’s hardly believable.

On top of being a riveting read, it’s also a damned fine example of beautiful travel literature. I knew I’d love it when I read this paragraph: “The simple and astonishing thing about India is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There’s nowhere else in the world where that’s quite so true.” It’s simple, but it says a lot.

But at the risk of being one of those people who sneers at a book because it’s gotten too popular, I did struggle through a lot of it. Roberts is just too introspective. Everything is a life lesson, or some huge meaningful insight into human nature and the world. I rolled my eyes more than once.

What I learned from it: Sometimes things just are, and they don’t need to be over-explained. Roberts is guilty of this. Please don’t also be guilty of this. The caress of someone’s inner thigh is not a glimpse into humankind’s sexuality and the power of women. I assure you it’s just a sexually excited man looking to get some.