Shantaram – Gregory Roberts
Summary: The tale of an Australian prison escapee who flees to India and carves out a life for himself in Bombay
Some characters truly are larger than life, and Lin, aka Shantaram – based on Roberts’ own experiences – is almost too fantastic to believe. From inmate to slum doctor to gangster, he arrives in Bombay intending only to stay for a few days, and ends up hooked by its heart and soul.
Shantaram is long, but it has the makings of masterpiece. Roberts brings India to life in full colour – its spirit, its heat, its filth – compelling yet repulsive, ugly yet beautiful. Lin endures countless betrayals, deaths of those close to him, struggles with heroin, but finds joy in a few real friendships, his slum neighbours whom he cares for, and learns the business of passport forging and currency hustling under the patronage of one local mob head. My chief complaint lies with his incessant need to tie every chapter up neatly with some deep philosophical observations – it’s unnecessary and grating.
It’s also telling, I think, of the faults of the prison system. The book begins in Bombay; Roberts does not directly indict his Australian jailers, as I recall; Lin references his time inside to others only when asked directly about it. And as for the brutal violence and appalling conditions that mark his time in an Indian jail, well, that speaks for itself. I have spoken to prison guards, restorative justice reps and lobbyists on both sides in my time, and while I know there is no black and white and no easy answers, I think it’s safe to say our system is not perfect – and it’s unimaginable that such things can be sanctioned (plus of course, the things that aren’t).
How To Get A Sofa Around A Corner – Mark Frary
Summary: Smart science for a better life.
Have you ever wondered how to up your odds at cards, get a wine stain out, or deal to bad breath? This book explains how, applying science – be it physics or chemistry – to everyday matters. And it’s not laborious; think diagrams, drawings and concise explanations, with each dilemma dealt to in the space of a couple of digestible pages. Probably not a reference book, but an entertaining and educational distraction all the same.
Dragonfly in Amber – Diana Gabaldon
Summary: Duelling. Balls. Prison. Kings. Gold. History. From life in 18th century France to 18th century Scotland, it’s never dull for Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp.
Okay, I succumbed. And I’m putting the Claire-Jamie story up there with Tatiana and Alexander and Jessica and Marcus in my top three greatest fictional loves.
Sequels are never quite as compelling, and this suffers from being bookended with sequences set in the future, in which Claire recalls the rest of her time-travelling experience in the present day. These also swing from first-person to third person, as her daughter Brianna and family friend Roger necessarily provide another perspective while she attempts to convince them of her story.
Following on from Outlander, Dragonfly follows Claire and Jamie in France as they try to thwart the Stuart uprising. Jamie takes up the mantle of merchant and Claire juggles her duties as a society lady with work at a hospital for the dregs of society. There’s duelling, more jail time, a miscarriage and plenty of plotting, scheming and mortal danger, plus plenty of rolls in the hay thrown in. Highbrow guilty pleasures all around. And you might learn some history too.