Monthly Archives: January 2013

Shantaram; there are no words, you just have to read it

Shantaram

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

It’s been a very long time since I have been as gripped, inspired and intellectually stimulated by a book as I was when I read Shantaram. Initially highly recommended by my best friend in Holland – she’s got great taste in books – then a colleague purchased it and finally I decided to download it on my Kindle in order to enjoy en route and while in Australia over Christmas, both of which I did.

For anyone who is  a passionate traveller or curious about other cultures, Shantaram will either be complete torture – good torture that is, – pure pleasure or a mix of both. The book is so rich and vivid in it’s descriptions you almost feel like you’re in Leopold’s Cafe in Colaba, walking the streets of Bombay with Lin – the protagonist, – sitting on Chowpatty Beach watching the sunset, sharing the pain of his beatings in prison or crossing the Afghan mountains on horseback. And although I’ve never been to India – it was on my list before reading Shantaram – after finishing the book, I’m even more keen to visit.

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Gregory David Roberts wrote the first two drafts of the book – both of which were destroyed by prison guards – during his second stint in prison in Australia. He had previously escaped from prison after being convicted of a series of armed robberies to feed his heroin addiction after the breakdown of his marriage and had fled to India where he ended up working for the Bombay mafia for 10 years while in exile. No one knows how much of Shantaram, which was published in 2003, is based on Roberts real life and how much is fantasy but I would guess a lot of it is true.

For me one of the most interesting parts of the books is that both the author and his protagonist are writers and intellectuals turned criminal which makes for fascinating reading in particular when Lin reflects on his personal feelings, emotions and rational, and his riveting conversations  about life, death and morality with the Bombay mafia don Abdul Khader Khan.

One of the things that Lin spends a lot of time musing over throughout the book are his past actions, whether they were from his previous life in Australia or generally looking back at decisions he had made or things he had done in his life. One of my friends recently said to me that going away and being somewhere completely different gives you a new perspective on things, it gives you time to reflect on life, on what you have done so far and what your future plans are, and in many ways these reflections often help to re focus your life and priorities. She is absolutely right, and having read Shantaram that also seems to be what both Roberts and Lin are doing; they reflect on their past lives and actions, seeing everything a lot clearer through the passage of time and from the physical distance of the two continents.

From laughing out loud – usually thanks to Lin’s big smiled Indian guide Prabaker – to profound thinking and even crying – also courtesy of Prabaker – the book takes you on an amazing journey from the very first sentence to the last word.

Leopold's Cafe, Colaba, Mumbai

Leopold’s Cafe, Colaba, Mumbai

The title of the book comes from the name Prabaker’s mother gives Lin when he stays with his family in their village, Sundar. The name which means “Man of Peace” or “Man of God’s Peace” is in many ways ironic but also increasingly apt the further you delve into Lin’s mind.

I’ve tried to explain what the book is about to a few people but words always literally fail me and I end my feeble attempted explanation with “you just have to read it.” So far I’ve convinced quite a few people to read the book that way, it’s simply one of those books all book lovers should read at some point in life.

One of my pet hates when it comes to reading books is when other people spoil a plot or story for me and although Shantaram is so richly intricate and beautifully written that it would be hard to ruin the story, I don’t want to give too much away. I’m hoping that my humble attempt to write about such a thought provoking and brilliant book is enough to convince you book and travel lovers to pick up a copy.

On a personal side note, the news that Roberts has another book coming out soon, The Mountain Shadow, which further follows Lin’s adventures, literally made my week when I found out and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy on Amazon!

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Festive celebrations Down Under

Australia 2012 201

Christmas has passed, New Years  Eve is gone and I’m back from Australia and once again sat behind my desk in the office, so I feel it was time to write another post. And no, Christmas was not spent with a barbecue on the beach, rather we stayed in a ski lodge in Thredbo, a lovely village in the middle of the Snowy Mountains, right by the highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko (which we climbed, not once but twice in the space of one week, with the baby)

It’s a beautiful part of the world and after travelling 30 hours and driving six more from Sydney International (my darling sister, her partner and my Australia 2012 328beautiful nephew came all the way to pick my mum and I up) it was refreshing to get out of the car and into the cool mountain night air. Our days there were filled with going for lots of walks, not being able to get enough of my nephew – my mum and I were seeing for the first time- playing lot of board games, enjoying the sunshine and warmth and cooking and eating lots of delicious food.

Australia 2012 094We hadn’t spent Christmas together  for a few years and we always enjoy it so much when we do. It’s just not the same celebrating Christmas apart, no matter how old we are! True to our German tradition, we put up and decorated the tree on Christmas Eve with mince pies  and homemade ice cream. The mince meat came all the way from Waitrose and caused me a lot of trouble getting through customs. Turns out they didn’t know what mince meat was – for mince pies that is – and thought I was trying to get meat into the country. There were sniffer dogs involved and a lot of palaver, but we managed to convince them of the meatless nature of the product in the end and got it safely into the country.

All four of us are big cooking and food fiends and so I happily succumbed to

Starters

Starters

playing Sous Chef, chopping assistant or overseer as required. Christmas day’s feast was an eclectic mix of traditional and some alternative dishes  – to Christmas that is. For starters we had homemade Greek village bread, Spanakopitas, cheeses, a divine Chinese cabbage salad and a selection of cold meats. The main Christmas dinner consisted of delicious turkey courtesy of my sisters partner –  it turns out I’m very squeamish about touching the uncooked bird and wasn’t a great assistant in that respect- German Kessler their neighbours brought along, vegetables, sage an onion stuffing, cranberry sauce and for dessert a delicious trifle made by my mum and homemade Rocky Road as an after dinner treat, also from their neighbours.  We all pitched in cooking, and it was loads of fun, almost more so in the preparation than in the eating.

breads 2

We baked a lot of breads and pastry based products over Christmas; from mince pies, to Stollen, Greek Village bread and my attempt at sourdough. I think the word attempt gives the story away a little. So I had the great idea of making sourdough, which I’d planned out meticulously to be ready for Christmas Day. So much care and nurture is needed in making sourdough that I decided to name it Charlie – the German sourdough Herman had a name, so I thought it was only fair. Everyone started calling him Charlie and I was asked on a daily basis how Charlie was doing. Turns out, not so good. When I took him out of the oven he hadn’t cooked though properly, despite re baking him nothing helped. It tasted great, but sadly Charlie ended up in the bin as I didn’t want to poison anyone, plus we had plenty of food going round. So one of my 2013 culinary resolutions is to learn to make sourdough successfully. Tips and advice are welcome!

Dinner on the balcony

Dinner on the balcony

I could go on citing all the delicious food we ate and the things we did but I think that could take a while. Before I sign off, however, I will briefly mention one final dish that I took rather a fancy too, it was my sister’s absolutely Goats cheese souffle with creamy mushroom saucedelicious goats cheese soufflé  with creamy mushroom sauce and salad. Creamy, delicious and lighter than air it was absolutely divine and relatively simple to make. Butter, breadcrumbs  flour, milk, goats cheese, eggs and chives are all you need to make this amazing soufflé. The recipe has been safely copied and brought to London  for future use.

All in all it was a fantastic holiday, a great break, vitamin D intake and it was just so great to spend time with my family and my little nephew who I adore and miss a lot. It was hard coming back to London, especially into the misery that is London in January but c’est la vie. 

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