Finally taking the time to read the sequel to Gregory David Roberts’ epic novel, Shantaram, I was pleased that I made the effort. Much like the original novel, it is chock full of linguistic complexities and subtleties embedded through the easy-flowing text. As the story opens, the reader is taken two years past the end of Shantaram, presumably the latter portion of the 1980s, with Lin in a stable relationship with Lisa, whose presence peppered the narrative of the past novel as her character developed. Alongside this revelation, the writer learns that Lin is still firmly involved in the Bombay Mafia and has taken up control of the passport forgery business. However, Lin has an epiphany of sorts after meeting a rough and highly unique Irishman, Concannon, whose stubbornness is matched only by his refusal to conform. As Lin decides to put the Mafia behind him, he must plan his exit carefully, so as not to become a complete pariah. One issue he must confront is the constant attacks from a rival gang, the Scorpions, who will stop at nothing to kill him and take over his business. As the novel progresses, Lin comes face to face with Karla again, the woman he loved since arriving in India and for whom his feelings have not dissipated in the two year hiatus. This love is diluted more because of his relationship with Lisa and Karla’s marriage (a protest union) with Ranjit, but Roberts explores the lingering nature of these two characters and the magnetism they possess. As Lin gathers new and excited characters throughout his adventures, his focus is on rebuilding a friendship with Karla and helping her shed the weight of a husband with whom she has no true passion. After a terrible event hits Lin to his core, he seeks revenge in the only way he knows how, by ridding himself from the perpetrator. This brings Lin and Karla closer, forcing them to come to terms with their love for one another and pushes them to work as a team for the first time; the cohesive unit that Lin sought from his earliest days with her. With adventures that take Lin up the side of a mountain and into the Sri Lankan Civil War, Roberts matches the power of Shantaram while offering new insight into the life of a man who is off the grid while being so very connected to those around him. A powerful novel that tells so much in its massive narrative.
Similar to the previous novel, the story weaves together a collection of vignettes within Lin’s Indian life, though is more grounded and faces a day to day existence now that roots are firmly planted in Bombay. Roberts uses this follow-up to explore Lin’s choices to stay in India and how he has developed as a man, working on the black market while being kind of heart. Lin struggles, as any character might with all he faces, though does his best to look out for himself. Roberts tosses many new characters into the narrative, but the core group from the previous novel return, their lives also enriched with two additional years in India. While Roberts does say this novel reads effectively as a standalone, I would argue there is an essential flavour that is lost on the reader who has not lived through Shantaram. There are portions that read very quickly and with great ease, particularly the gang clashes, which had me feeling as if it were a rejuvenated West Side Story. Other portions were thick with philosophy and the inherent complexities of the universe. Mention of illicit drugs peppered the narrative and I felt, at times, as if I needed to be under the same influence in order to fully grasp the depth and esoteric nature of what Roberts presented. That being said, there was a powerful momentum that pushed the story along, both the amorous thread that Lin and Karla shared, as well as a chance for the protagonist to shed those parts of his Indian past and rediscover himself. This is a love story, wrapped in a philosophical treatise, enveloped in a struggle against conformity and tied up with a bow of seal-fulfillment. There is just so much to explore that this review can never truly encapsulate all that I learned and wanted to share.
I did say, during my Shantaram review, that I was not sure how well I would do having to read this novel, rather than letting Humphrey Bower take the helm, as an audiobook narrator. It was a struggle, not because the text was hard to read, but in missing the nuances and accents, I was not able to take the same journey that had me so impressed while reading Shantaram. The length of time it took me to complete this book should not be indicative of its lack of worthiness, but that parts were so deep that I could only digest them in small portions, without the help of a stellar audio narrator.
Kudos, Mr. Roberts, for another outstanding piece that has touched me to my core and left me wondering if there is more for Lin to discover.
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