Earlier this year I posted a review of Gregory David Roberts’ masterpiece ‘Shantaram’, a fictional novel based loosely on his life story and events that transpired in Bombay, India, known today as Mumbai. The story is unbelievable yet intriguing from the start with a cast of characters that are sure to be remembered. I recently finished this sequel to Shantaram in which Roberts continues his story two years after the finale in part one. And like the first book, the story at hand here is unforgettable and filled with plot twists that will satisfy fans. At over eight hundred pages, the book is not a quick read and due to Roberts’ writing style, the pace of the story moves quickly. In contrast to the first part, it was easier keeping track of the characters in this story. There are familiar names from part one such as Lisa, Didier, Kavita, and Karla, who emerged in part one as the object of Lin’s affection. Their exploits are far from over and by the time this book is over, they have run amok all over Bombay on missions not for the faint at heart.
The book opens with Lin engaged in his routine criminal activity. He is still living with Lisa who Karla rescued from the infamous Madame Zhou in part one. Lisa has turned her life around and has set her sights on bigger things. Lin, however, is still running around with underworld figures. He visits a local drug spot to rescue a friend named Vikram who has a serious addiction. There he meets the Irishman Concannon and Dennis who both play crucial roles later in the story. But before we reach that point, the Company and Lin have their own issues as they face a threat from rival gang the Scorpions and Lin realizes that he wants out of the criminal life. Company boss Sanjay, who is not popular, is willing to let him leave but not before one last mission in Sri Lanka which Lin accomplishes. But while he is gone, a series of events in Bombay involving Lisa transpire that turn his world upside down and signal that the story is about to take a sharp turn. Upon returning to Bombay aided by suspicions implanted by the Blue Hijab’s words, Lin becomes a man destined to find the truth. And to help him find that truth, Karla fills the void and their complicated past from part one comes back to life as they each wrestle with the lives they have created. Madame Zhou also returns filled with rage and thirsting for revenge. Lin is also seeking revenge but is burdened with the reality of being a Company outsider and a target of the Scorpions. His protector and brother in arms Abdullah stands by his side in this part as well as the fearless warrior who stares death in the face and is the main threat to Sanjay’s reign in a metaphorical clash of the titans.
Lin finds himself in a strange place realizing that he has done too much to turn back and done too much to move forward without pushback. Added to his issues are the plights of Divya, Rannvieg and Ranjit, Karla’s husband. Lin is the person they all seek out for help and like a juggler, he confronts and diffuses situations but not always without violence. And lurking in the background is Concannon who is by far the book’s biggest antagonist. But Lin is far from alone, and standing behind him is the Frenchman Didier, who is not only the comic relief in the book, but the type of muscle needed when the streets are hot. His sexual orientation is the source of controversy more than once in the book, but he never fails to show his strength when needed. He is, without question, my favorite character in the book.
As the story picks up in pace upon Lin’s return to Bombay, the chips begin to fall, and the fallout is nothing short of astounding. Frankly, there are a lot of departures and few arrivals. While reading the latter part of the story, I could tell that things were coming to a head and the final part of the story would leave no stone unturned. There is heartache at the end but also justice even if it is unconventional. Lin is alive to tell the story but not without his demons and the realization that the dark side of Bombay is darker than one may think. But there are ways out and throughout the story, that is a common theme. The problem, however, is that everyone is in too deep. From Vikram to the corrupt police official Lightning Dilip and even Diyva’s father, all are up to their necks in some scheme or racket in Bombay. That is not to say there are no morals in the story. In fact, the characters are fully aware of their shortcomings and the choices they have made in life. And that is a part of the story that can be lost. In both books, each person is confronted repeatedly with moral challenges that test human nature and our willingness to corrupt ourselves to survive or to indulge. Idriss is the guru on the mountain they seek enlightenment from and the discussion they have provides something to consider. But even Idriss cannot stop the deadly actions in Bombay from reaching the mountain. Abdullah never fails his mission and the last time they visit the mountain in the story, all debts are paid.
Readers in search of a short story will not find it here but those who enjoy long books and intricate storytelling will love this. And if you have read Shantaram, you must read this. I have yet to watch the television show based on it, but my hope is that it does the book the justice it deserves.