A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments -- his success in seizing Indias imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the countrys minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.Read more...
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A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments -- his success in seizing Indias imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the countrys minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.
Pulitzer Prizewinner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhis sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinentduring two decades in South Africa -- and then tested by an India that quickly learned to revere him as a Mahatma, or Great Soul, while following him only a small part of the way to the social transformation he envisioned. The man himself emerges as one of historys most remarkable self-creations, a prosperous lawyer who became an ascetic in a loincloth wholly dedicated to political and social action. Lelyveld leads us step-by-step through the heroic -- and tragic -- last months of this selfless leaders long campaign when his nonviolent efforts culminated in the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing that ended only with his own assassination.
India and its politicians were ready to place Gandhi on a pedestal as Father of the Nation but were less inclined to embrace his teachings. Muslim support, crucial in his rise to leadership, soon waned, and the oppressed untouchables -- for whom Gandhi spoke to Hindus as a whole -- produced their own leaders.
Here is a vital, brilliant reconsideration of Gandhis extraordinary struggles on two continents, of his fierce but, finally, unfulfilled hopes, and of his ever-evolving legacy, which more than six decades after his death still ensures his place as Indias social conscience -- and not just Indias.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-01-10
- Reviewer: Staff
In this rigorous biography of India's beloved political and spiritual leader, Lelyveld (Move Your Shadow) offers an unexpected perspective on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), one that focuses more on his failures and vexations than triumphs. Gandhi dreamed of Hindu-Muslim solidarity in a united, autonomous India (a hope dashed with the 1947 partition that split off Pakistan); acceptance of lower castes by upper-caste Hindus (still only partially accomplished); an economy built around cottage industries in self-sufficient villages (a quixotic fantasy). This program proved far more difficult than evicting the British, Lelyveld notes, and earned the Mahatma hatred—and, finally, assassination—in an India riven by sectarian animosity and caste prejudice. Lelyveld pairs a sympathetic but critical analysis of Gandhi's politics with a vivid portrait of the Mahatma's charismatic strangeness: his makeover from business-suited, English-educated upper-caste lawyer to loincloth-clad sage; his odd diet and abhorrence of sex; his strained family life. A stirring, evenhanded account that relates the failure of Gandhi's politics of saintliness while attesting to its enduring power. Photos. (Mar.)
A deeper understanding of Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa. He arrived in 1893 “as an untested, unknown 23-year-old law clerk brought over from Bombay,” Joseph Lelyveld writes in his fascinating study, Great Soul. By the time he left, “he was well on his way to becoming the Gandhi India would come to revere and, sporadically, follow.”
What did Gandhi learn in Africa? Everything from a theory of nonviolent resistance to ideas about proper nutrition. But Lelyveld’s particular interest is the evolution of Gandhi’s social vision, especially his efforts to overturn India’s caste system and to unite Hindus and Muslims, both of which he began to formulate while he was in Africa.
Lelyveld, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on apartheid in South Africa, traces the often problematic development of these ideas in Gandhi’s struggles in South Africa and, later, in India. A brilliant analyst, Lelyveld shows not the sainted Gandhi but Gandhi in the making. This is a Gandhi who was constantly renewing himself; who first outdistanced his family and then his followers; and who did not succeed. But, strangely enough, this view of Gandhi does nothing to diminish the man.
Although Great Soul follows Gandhi throughout his adult life right up until his assassination in 1948, this is not a full-fledged biography. Instead, Lelyveld intentionally ignores significant passages in Gandhi’s life—such as the details of the Indian independence movement—to highlight the specific themes he is pursuing. As a result, readers will not put down this book having gleaned a full knowledge of all that Gandhi accomplished. But they will definitely possess a deeper understanding of the complex human being behind those accomplishments.