Study Guide

Shantaram Themes

  • Betrayal

    The hero of Shantaram, narrator Linbaba, gets into lots of pickles in his international fugitive story. Almost all of them involve some kind of betrayal or other. Whether he's being thrown into jail because of a friend's setting a trap for him, or finding out that the love of his life has hooked up with pretty much all of his friends, betrayal is always in the back of his mind. While he's always searching for someone to trust, it seems that it's not easy to do so with a bunch of traitors stepping on his style.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. What are the clues (a.k.a. foreshadowing) that Lin's beloved new friends are actually using him?
    2. Lin feels betrayed by most of the people he loves in the novel, but are there any characters that don't betray him? Does he betray anyone?
    3. Why doesn't Lin take revenge on the ones who betray him?

    Chew on This

    The novel Shantaram shows that the only way past a betrayal is through forgiveness.

    We hate to break it to you but, in Shantaram, lovers and family are traitors in the end. Only friends remain true.

  • Language & Communication

    The Australian narrator, Lin, has a real knack for language, and it's a good thing. Shantaram takes place in India, Afghanistan, Australia, and all points in between. Whether he's picking up Hindi or Marathi in Mumbai, or trying to keep up with the Arabic words his Muslim friends use, or even figuring out what French and German expats are talking about in the bar, languages play a big role in the multicultural, international texture of the novel. This doesn't seem to cause any communication problems, though; on the contrary, Lin's ability to understand pretty much everyone he meets shows what a great communicator he is.

    Questions About Language & Communication

    1. How does Gregory David Roberts illustrate the various languages that Lin encounters in India?
    2. Besides literal language, what other types of communication does Lin have to learn to get along with his new companions?
    3. Why is everyone so accepting of Lin and his use of Marathi and Hindi? What does this assimilation represent in the novel?
    4. Who are Lin's teachers in the novel, when it comes to language and communication? Why is this important?

    Chew on This

    By speaking Hindi and Marathi, Lin shows that he is not just a tourist in Bombay—none of the Lonely Planet guidebook stuff.

    Lin believes that he has penetrated the native Indian world by learning a couple of the languages, but he has only scratched the surface of interpersonal communication. Capisce?

  • Friendship

    Shantaram is made up of the stories of some grand friendships between very different characters. Lin, an Australian fugitive who turns up in Bombay one day, must rely on the strangers he meets to find his way through the city. He is lucky; he finds some of the most loyal, true friends a guy could ask for. Most of these friendship stories end in tragedy, unfortunately, but they insist on the beauty of BFF-hood anyway. Even love doesn't seem to play as strong a role as friendship in this novel.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Who is Lin's best friend in the novel? How do you know?
    2. What does friendship represent for Lin in Shantaram? Would he be able to survive without it?
    3. When does Lin know for sure that he and Prabaker will be close friends? How does he know?
    4. Why does Lin's visiting Prabaker's village mean so much for their friendship?

    Chew on This

    Shantaram shows that friendship, because it is chosen, is more important than any other tie (even the bow tie… okay, sorry).

    Lin's survival in the novel depends entirely upon his friendships. Without his BFFs, he'd be dead meat.

  • Revenge

    Ah, the sweet taste of revenge to go with your morning chai. Shantaram is full of double-crosses, and so it should come as no surprise that revenge takes center stage, as well. The narrator is quick to trust people, but once they betray him he has a hard time shaking it off, and usually tries hunting down whomever has hurt him, or those he loves, and punishing them. There is a kind of a twist though; he mostly doesn't go through with it. The thirst for revenge drives him to the point of no return and he usually chooses not to pass it.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. Why does Madame Zhou betray Lin? Why does he want to take revenge on her so badly, and not other baddies in the novel?
    2. What does Lin decide when he finally has the chance to take revenge? Why?
    3. How is Lin's desire for revenge different from Khaled's or Abdullah's?

    Chew on This

    Lin's desire for revenge is personal; Khaled's is collective.

    Shantaram shows how a lust for revenge can eat away at a person's soul—bad times.

  • Drugs & Alcohol

    Casual drug and alcohol use shows up constantly in the pages of Shantaram. The fact that a seedy bar is the characters' favorite hangout doesn't really help matters, and the abundance of marihuana (marijuana) cigarettes in Bombay is just part of the background. But drugs also have a more sinister role to play in the novel, too. Lin, the narrator, is driven to armed robbery because of his heroin addiction, and when life gets too hard for him he nearly loses himself to addiction. Fortunately his friends help him to kick the habit, but the temptation never really goes away.

    Questions About Drugs & Alcohol

    1. What do you make of the rampant hashish and marihuana use in the novel? How is it different from Lin's use of heroin?
    2. Why does Lin decide to start using heroin again?
    3. How does drug and-or alcohol use affect relationships in the novel?

    Chew on This

    Party on—Shantaram glorifies recreational drug use without showing any of its negative effects.

    Party not—Shantaram shows the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse through their consequences in the main character's life.

  • Principles

    Bust out the iced coffee (and a beret if you have on handy)—the long philosophical discussions of right, wrong, and living a principled life can get a little bit overwhelming in Shantaram. On the bright side, it's a great cure for insomnia (j-k'ing). Lin, the narrator, is very concerned about making principled choices, and he chooses his friends for the way that they live according to their values. His father figure, Khaderbhai, has a very clear idea of how to apply principles to daily life—which is kind of unusual, given that he's a notorious crime lord.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Who is a model of principled living in the novel? Would you like to model yourself after any of the characters in Shantaram?
    2. What is Khaderbhai's philosophy when it comes to right and wrong? How does that fit in with Lin's own conception?
    3. Is there "honor among thieves" in the novel? If so, where do you see it at work? If not, why not?

    Chew on This

    Nice try, but Khaderbhai's principle of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa, is just an excuse for bad behavior.

    Khaderbhai's principle of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa, shows that we must always think about the context and results of an action, not just the action itself.

  • Poverty

    It's inescapable: the utter desperation of most of Bombay's citizens living situations. Whether they're sleeping on sidewalks or in slums, being turned away from hospitals or rounded up by the cops, a lack of resources is a major problem for the majority of the characters in Shantaram. The novel doesn't try to hide or sugarcoat this fact, either. The narrator, Lin, goes to live in a slum and shares the firsthand experiences he has there. The injustice of poverty is always lurking in the back of such descriptions, especially since Lin also has access to some of the city's richest and most powerful people.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. How does Lin deal with the utter poverty most of his friends live in without just going nuts?
    2. Where do the differences between the poor and the rich show up in the novel?
    3. Why does the slum exist right next to the fancy World Trade Centre? What's the connection between the two sites?
    4. How do the poorest characters in the novel get by?

    Chew on This

    In Shantaram, the poor people are portrayed as good and the rich as corrupt.

    Lin chooses to live in the slum to experience the poverty of the people, but he can never really experience it because, if he wants, he can actually leave.

  • Criminality

    When your narrator's an escaped convict who falls right into a counterfeiting and money-laundering ring, you know that criminality will be an important aspect of the novel. And Shantaram doesn't disappoint. We get looks at prisons in both Australia and India and glimpses of the international crime operations. Readers are also privy to the narrator's guilty conscience, and his relationship to his criminal past. It's not just about legal guilt and innocence; criminality in Shantaram is a philosophical question. The characters wrestle with the way their actions impact others.

    Questions About Criminality

    1. What are Lin's crimes in Australia? How do they affect his life in India?
    2. Are there any characters who aren't criminals? Why does Lin fall into such a lawless crowd?
    3. When Lin decides to join Abdullah, why do his slum friends warn him not to? What are they afraid of?
    4. Why is Lin chosen to work for Khaderbhai? What qualities does he have that make him a good candidate?

    Chew on This

    Shantaram shows that, in a corrupt system, it is almost impossible to live completely lawfully.

    In Shantaram, the fact that Lin was once a criminal means that he will never escape the life of crime.

  • Exile

    When you've escaped from a maximum security prison and crossed an ocean as a fugitive, it's not easy to get back home. And that's the situation of Lin, the narrator of Shantaram, who not only can't go back to his homeland of Australia, but also must live in hiding, on the run, because of his crimes. He changes his name, and has to create a life for himself out of nothing when he arrives in Bombay. He and his international crew of exiles all have different stories but one thing in common: they are strangers in a strange land.

    Questions About Exile

    1. Which characters are exiles by choice, and which are forced into exile? How does this difference affect their lives?
    2. What is the function of Leopold's in the lives of the exiles and expats in Bombay?
    3. When will Lin ever be able to go back to Australia? What does he face if he goes back home?
    4. Why do the exiles group together rather than assimilating into Indian culture?

    Chew on This

    In Shantaram, Leopold's is a utopia where outsiders can form a community.

    Shantaram shows the way that being an exile is its own type of citizenship.

  • Visions of India

    Bombay, the city in which Shantaram takes place, is a chaotic hustle-bustle full of intense sights, sounds, and smells. The descriptions of the heat will make you sweat; the descriptions of the food will make you drool. India is almost another character in the novel, and it's one of the most likeable ones. While it's always the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, it's still a pretty intimate relationship with what seems like an amazing city. The next book you read will be an India travel guide if you're not careful.

    Questions About Visions of India

    1. Most of the characters in Shantaram are not Indian. How does Prabaker, for example, represent his country amid all those foreigners? How does he differ from the "typical" Indian, according to the narrator?
    2. What makes Lin choose Bombay and India as his new home?
    3. When Indira Gandhi is killed there are riots in the streets. Why? How does this affect the novel's storyline?
    4. What are the main differences between urban and rural India, according to Shantaram.

    Chew on This

    Unfortunately, Shantaram romanticizes India's poverty and other social problems.

    Hold on just a minute, there. Actually, Shantaram shows the complexities of Indian society.