This book has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a couple of years. It's a fairly large book which doesn't normally daunt me but I think the fact that it wasn't the sort of book I would normally pick up delayed me reading it. I added it to my list of books to read in the Books I Should Have Read By Now challenge and I spotted a readalong for this title. Two signs that I should read it.
I am glad I did. The entire book is extremely descriptive. Normally that can be a negative but in this case I liked it. It was almost as if I was standing in the streets of Bombay with him. It also helped me to fall in love with characters such as Prabaker, his family and Johnny Cigar. Prabaker was probably my favourite character. I loved all his scenes. He seemed to have no concept of sarcasm and so would answer Lin as though he had asked a serious question. It made for some very funny moments and just endeared Prabaker all the more to me. One of my favourite moments was when he was living in the slum. Lin was in a bad mood as he hadn't had much sleep and Johnny Cigar woke him up early as there were patients waiting for him. He put the bad mood down to Lin's toilet issues which set off all his neighbours discussing how regularly Lin went.
I actually have lots of favourite moments and they all involve Prabaker or one of the others who lived in the slum. They seemed to have more to laugh about and I liked their philosophy on life. They were honest men who just wanted a happy life. I read in another review (I think it was a comment by Aths who is also taking part in the readalong) that the book was patronising at times. I can see where this view comes from. Although Lin loved living with Prabaker and his friends, enjoyed their company and saw them as friends I don't think he every really saw them as his equal. I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe it was the tone he used when talking about them. It was almost like he saw himself as their saviour.
There were a lot of difficult moments too. It wasn't all lightness and fun. The cholera epidemic that hit the slums whilst Lin was living there was one. Although I don't think Lin saw himself as being in any real danger then. The real danger was when he was falsely imprisoned and had to fight his way to survive. Then of course his time in Afghanistan. He was in constant danger then. I think it was from those chapters that the tone of the book changed completely. It already had a little when he got out of prison and was learning the ways of the mob. But it truly changed then. The heart warming stories were few and far between. In fact there was only really one after Afghanistan and that once again involved Johnny Cigar.
The mob or mafia didn't interest me quite as much. I felt that Lin had doubts about the work he was doing. He knew it was wrong but even after he had paid off his debts for getting out of prison he didn't stop. It couldn't have bothered him that much. It was after that point we learned more about Karla, the woman he loved. She was a mysterious character from the start who had her own sad story.
The only negative thing I can say about the book itself is that I don't think Lin quite knew how he wanted to be portrayed. One minute he was the saviour and he wanted to be everyones friend. Accepted by everyone (which he just about was). On the other hand he wanted to be the hard man. There was a little of that before he joined the mob but it was more pronounced then. It somehow didn't quite sit well with the character because more times than not he was the good guy and the voice of reason.
If I was to talk about all the things I loved about this book I would honestly be here all day. It's one of those books that I'm not going to forget in a hurry. Although I eventually finished it earlier than the readalong planned it's still the longest time I have spent on a book. I am actually very glad for that. It gave me the chance to enjoy it in more detail before moving on to the next book.
Despite the size of the book it still felt that there was more packed into there than could possibly fit. Having finished it I came away surprised that it wasn't longer than it actually was. Believe me it was worth every page. I know the follow up is meant to be published this year. I'm not sure I will be able to hold off until the paperback as I want to know what happens to Lin next.
Oh, and one last thing. The book itself is meant to be semi -autobiographical. I know that Roberts did escape from prison, spent time in India before getting caught years later. He himself states that most of it is fiction. It would be interesting to know which of it is fact. Although according to wikipedia Prabaker was based on a real person.