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Roberts, Gregory David 1952-

ROBERTS, Gregory David 1952-

PERSONAL: Born 1952, in Melbourne, Australia; divorced; children: one daughter. Education: Attended University of Melbourne.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scribe Publications, 595 Drummond St., Carlton North, Victoria 3054, Australia.

CAREER: Writer, columnist, and business owner. Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, columnist; founder and owner of a multimedia company in Australia. Has supported himself previously as a criminal and member of the Bombay mafia; worked variously as a factory employee, social activist, founder of a first-aid and diagnostic clinic in Bombay, India, literacy teacher in prison, front man for a rock band, cosmology teacher, and stunt man and actor in Bollywood movies.


Shantaram (novel), Scribe Publications (Carlton North, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

Contributor of short stories, under a pseudonym, to India's national newspaper.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Three new novels, including The Mountain Shadow, the sequel to Shantaram.

SIDELIGHTS: The personal history of Australian author Gregory David Roberts reveals a life of drugs, crime, violence, and, ultimately, redemption. In the mid-1970s, Roberts had started a promising career as an academic in Australia after coming in first in his exams in Victoria. Working in a factory during the day and studying at night, as well as being involved in social activism and anti-war protests, Roberts was viewed as on his way to becoming one of the country's youngest tenured literature and philosophy professors. His relentless drive destroyed his marriage, however, and his wife won custody of their daughter. Shortly thereafter, "a social worker friend introduced Roberts to heroin; it turned out to be not so much a gateway drug as a trapdoor—the start of a 20-year fall through the underworlds of several continents," commented Peter Murphy in an interview with Roberts on the Laura Hird Web site.

To support his drug habit, Roberts turned, as many do, to crime. His relaxed, soft-spoken manner during holdups earned him the nickname the "Gentleman Bandit." Still, a bandit he was, and he was eventually captured and sentenced to ten years in prison. After a minor rules infraction got him sentenced to a unit where he was subjected to regular beatings, Roberts staged a daring daylight escape—perhaps more amazingly, a successful one. He spent ten years as a fugitive in Australia, and ended up in Bombay, India. There, knowing little more than basic first aid, he set up one of the city's first crude medical clinics. He became a member of the Bombay mafia, then worked as a smug-gler and fighter during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. When he was once again picked up by the police, he spent several months in Bombay's Arthur Road prison. While there, Roberts experienced brutal torture, frequently suffering horrific beatings with sharp canes that lacerated his flesh and scarred his psyche. "When I was chained to a wall in an Indian prison and being tortured, there was a moment when it seemed to me that I was going to die," Roberts related in an interview with Roger Gathman in Publishers Weekly. "In the constant struggle to lift my face from the bleeding, red puddle of sweat and tears, I was choked by the fear that I would drown in my own blood. But through it all, an indomitable spirit and a writer's sense of drama and good material—even if that material threatened to kill him—sustained Roberts.

After being bailed out of prison, he lived in Europe, traveled on a forged passport, fronted a German rock band named Kill Your Landlord, worked as a stunt man and actor in India's Bollywood movies, and wrote short stories under an assumed name for India's national newspaper. After being arrested again in Germany, he was considering another escape when "he had a moment of clarity and decided to quit all stimulants, serve out his sentence and devoted himself to writing," Murphy reported. Though the conditions in Australia were better than those in Bombay, he was still subjected to cruel treatment. Guards twice destroyed more than three hundred pages of manuscript Roberts had painstakingly written, then reconstructed. He calls such treatment "articide," "the destruction of a man through the destruction of his art, and I've seen it done in prisons, systematic, calculated and very clever," as he said in the interview with Murphy.

Eventually, that once-written, twice-resurrected manuscript became Roberts's debut novel, Shantaram. Part autobiography, part fiction, the book "paints a vast canvas: interwoven stories and themes; characters introduced and lost in the crowd; a long and arduous quest, in which hardship leads to wisdom and the hero continually meets terrible choices and challenges," observed reviewer Sunil Badami in Meanjin. On the day a young Australian man named Lindsay arrives in Bombay bearing a forged passport and an assumed name, he meets the two people who will define his time in India. The first is Prabakar, a relentlessly optimistic tour guide who serves as Linsay's docent, guiding him through Indian village life and introducing him to its customs. The other person is Karla, a beautiful Swiss-American woman who seems incapable of returning the affection Linsay shows her. Arrested on false charges, Lin spends time in the inhumane Arthur Road prison, just as author Roberts did. When he is released, he enters the Bombay mafia and eventually joins one of the mafia heads, Abdel Khader Khan, in a guerilla war against the Russians in Afghanistan. Linsay learns Karla's startling connection to Khan, and eventually discovers who set him up to be arrested and sent to prison.

The author is "capable of passages of precise beauty, and if his tale sometimes threatens to sprawl out of bounds and collapse under its own bookish, poetic weight, he draws its elements together at just the right moment," commented a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Shantaram "is an exuberant, swashbuckling story of derring-do, told with reckless gusto and obvious affection, and if Roberts is no sort of stylist (and he isn't), you'd have to be a snob not to admit to enjoying yourself," commented Patrick Ness in a London Telegraph review. Seattle Times contributor Valerie Ryan called it "the perfect picaresque novel: the saga of a rascally hero living by his wits in a poor and corrupt society."



Booklist, September 1, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of Shantaram, p. 6.

Boston Globe, December 16, 2004, Julie Wittes Schlack, "A Story of Life on the Run Runs on Too Long," review of Shantaram.

Detroit Free Press, October 10, 2004, Susan Hall-Balduf, "Tale of Drug Dealing Might Get You High," review of Shantaram.

Hollywood Reporter, October 7, 2004, Liza Foreman, "Deep Set for Adventure in Shantaram," p. 1.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Shantaram, p. 711.

Library Journal, August, 2004, Nancy Pearl, review of Shantaram, p. 70.

Meanjin, June, 2004, Sunil Badami, "Last Mango in Pondicherry," review of Shantaram, p. 200.

New York Times, December 26, 2004, Megan O'Grady, "Bombay or Bust," review of Shantaram.

New Zealand Herald, Margie Thomson, review of Shantaram.

People, November 8, 2004, Amy Waldman, review of Shantaram, p. 57.

Publishers Weekly, June 23, 2003, John F. Baker, "Fiction Debut by Aussie Ex-Con," p. 14; August 23, 2004, Roger Gathman, "Man on the Run" (interview), p. 36; August 23, 2004, review of Shantaram, p. 35.

Seattle Times, January 16, 2005, Valerie Ryan, "Junkie, Outlaw, Savior, Author: Shantaram Is a True Epic."

Telegraph (London, England), June 28, 2004, Patrick Ness, "Among the Bombay Mafia," review of Shantaram.

USA Today, November 17, 2004, Rati Bishnoi, "Shantaram Weaves a Story of Bombay's Unique Underworld."


BookLoons, (June 18, 2005), Barbara Lingens, review of Shantaram.

Laura Hird Web site, (June 18, 2005) Peter Murphy, "Letters from Hell: Gregory David Roberts" (interview).

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