Jess on Pop: Shantaram

There is nothing that I can articulate that can do this book any justice.  I think it might be the best book I’ve ever read… I say “might be” only because I’ve not yet finished listening to it; it’s a big bastard. And it’s not by Stephen King. Take a moment and process that statement, knowing what you know about me. This book is life itself.  I realize that sounds stupid or cliche or however you want to slander my metaphor, but there is simply no other word I can use to encompass all that this book has to offer. 

Shenanigans include, but are in no way limited to the following: escape convicts, hiding out in India; funny as hell, pee your pants conversation, bears and hugging, shitting oneself, gangsters, prostitutes, vigilantism, bad omens and, of course, falling in love. 

To say that we Americans understand what a privileged people we are is a gross overstatement .  In listening to this book, and yes, get it on audiobook or you will lose some of the humor unless the voices in your head speak Hindi, I can tell you that I knew India is a poor nation, that people live in slums you and I could never imagine, even after watching Slumdog Millionaire. The fascination this book holds for me is in the story telling first and foremost, I have not reached a dull moment and I’m 13 hours in. In addition to that, magnificence is achieved in the humor, in the language, and in the minute details that no writer I have ever read has ever been able to describe without making me wish I had listened to the radio instead. 

I wish I could describe the hilarity of this book. And yet every time I try, the recipient of my tales just looks at me as though I’m crazy, talking excitedly and busting a gut over the main character’s bowel movements, his reaction to hugging a bear, meeting dangerous madams and making a life for himself that, for me, makes me forget that he began the story as a criminal.  No. There is no explaining it to anyone.  When I want to laugh about it with someone, I talk to my good friend, Mike, who recommended I read it, and together we laugh our asses off at what shouldn’t be an inside joke, but is, for me at least, simply because he is the only other person I know who’s read it. 

I wonder if some readers will look at the cover, read the jacket, and be forcefully reminded of the fact that India is filthy, poor, smelly, and full of corruption.  Will they think reading it will give them the same willies they get thinking about visiting such a place?  I hope not. Because what I never knew before (like I said, it’s in the details) is that India is full of sincere, hard working (to put it mildly) people who do not take credit for their good deeds, do not ask for anything in return, and who would give up bathing for a week to use their rationed and precious water to put out a neighbor’s house fire. And when I say “house” I use it in the loosest of terms.  I know now that India is full of color, and I imagine that, once living there and completely immersing oneself in the bright and happy culture, that those smells might even become pleasant.  

Anyway. I babble on. Please, if you never read another book, read this one. You can tell me to eat shit on any other recommendation I will ever make, if you read, and do not love Shantaram. I find myself unable to concentrate on anything else. I just want to be in my car. To be driving and listening to it for as long as time will allow. And I know that when I finish it, I will start at the beginning, and read it again. 

There is profanity and unsavory things that happen in this book. But guess what? Life does not exist without those things. Do not let it prohibit you from this experience. 

Myself, I am ready to be smothered in it. To fall into it like Alice down the rabbit hole. To live and see and experience and love with these characters whose voices I can’t wait to hear every day. 

Perhaps I’ll see if my family wants me to go pick up a pizza. In New Jersey. 

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