I lugged this brick of a book around with me for a whole month. 30 whole days with Shantaram either in my hand or my backpack. Over 900 pages became part of my backpack that day when I picked it up in Taiwan.
I was in the homestretch of a backpacking trip and on my way to spend a month in the Philippines. The month I would read Shantaram.
It was my second day in the Philippines after three long days between three countries and at least six different modes of transportation. I finally made it to one of the famed pristine beaches of Malapascua. It rained. This was only after I got the worst sunburn of my life, but I wouldn’t know that for another few hours.
Instead of sitting alone in my room, I sat alone in the restaurant with an iced coffee and 933 pages on the table in front of me. After no communication, highly coveted tacos, and a terrible realization at how bad my sunburn was, I made it almost a third of the way through my book.
A few days later I switched to a hostel and it became known quite quickly that I was trying to finish that book, at least 600 more pages, in the week I would be on Malapascua so I wouldn’t have to carry it around. I would pass people I had met and have my book and they would check up to see how far I got. It was never very far. I like to think everyone else was as invested in this as I was.
Everywhere I went, that book went, just in case I found a beach to lie on or a mango juice to drink. Every morning when I went for breakfast and my daily mango juice, I brought my book and would stay longer than I should have just reading.
Despite this dedication, I didn’t finish it on Malapascua.
Next up was a week on Bantayan, another beach destination where I imagined I would fly through the pages like a bird in a breeze. Like before, it went everywhere with me. I imagined I would read a lot at the beach, but I was interrupted too much by my new friends and dips in the crystal clear ocean. Tough, right?
A week and maybe 200 pages later, it was time to see another island and another beach. But not after a day of boats, buses, tricycles, and jeepneys to a ferry that didn’t exist. At least I had my book and a friend to get by before our new flight.
Finally, over my last two weeks between island hopping, beach lazing, walking, and mango juice drinking, I was on the bumpiest bus possible with a constant horn blowing in the background when it happened. I got to page 933. I did it. I was done. For a month, that book was practically part of me, like a useless third arm. It was a conversation starter. It was entertainment. It made me laugh. It made me almost cry. It opened my eyes to India. It was one of my favorite books ever.
Have you read Shantaram? What did you think of it? Do you have an experience with a book like this that stands out to you?