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The Bible and Dante add richness to Bombay prison life

BARBARA, ACU LIAISON LIBRARIAN

I was cajoled into reading Shantaram by my Canadian relatives who wondered how it was that I had not read this epic Australian title. 

It is about an Australian bank robber who escapes jail and flees to Bombay where he takes up several careers – volunteer first aid officer in the slums, Mafia worker specialising in passport forgeries, and even Bollywood actor. There’s also a 132 page foray into Afghanistan smuggling arms for his Mafia boss.

The tale largely parallels the real-life story of the author, Gregory David Roberts I found parts of the book harrowing, like the description of a three-month stint being tortured in a Bombay prison or the detailed descriptions of the highs of heroin addiction followed by the utter despair involved in going “cold turkey”.

When I finished the book I went to shantaram.com and read about the book’s “two layers of allegorical depth” with its references to the Bible and Dante’s Inferno – that I mostly missed! 

Actor Johny Depp reportedly loved the book so much he wanted to star in the film version but apparently plans for the movie version have stalled.

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