Shelves: history , biography I heard about the controversy surrounding Great Soul before I ever got a copy in my hands. So the main question I had was Is this going to read like a Jackie Collins novel, or is this a factual biography? The main objections from the State Assembly in Gujarat, which resulted in their vote to ban the book, involved suggestions that Gandhi had a gay relationship, and that Gandhi made racist comments. For brevity, and since many readers would prefer to draw their own conclusions from the evidence I heard about the controversy surrounding Great Soul before I ever got a copy in my hands. My summary of these issues and full review of the book is at greatnonfictionbooks. The author shows Gandhi as a political operator.

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All around him, he sees racial oppression. Although he eventually manages to get back in, he has suffered humiliation, and resolves to fight the segregation policies of the white colonialists. Gandhi seems to have had, even at that young age, an innate sense of justice.

Alone, far away from home, surrounded by institutionalized racial injustice, he focused that instinct on opposing it. Although a man of higher status, Gandhi joins indentured laborers, mostly Indian Muslims, in carrying out a nonviolent struggle against discriminatory laws such as restricted property rights that govern almost every aspect of their lives. The situation in India proves to be far more complex, fraught with issues of poverty and caste as well as tension between religious factions.

Soon, at the urging of a mentor, Gandhi is thrust onto the maelstrom of Indian national politics. His aim is not only to free India from British rule, but also to fight social inequities and build nationhood.

He organizes a movement of noncooperation against the British rulers, leading to numerous stays in prison. Through this entire tumultuous period, Gandhi remains steadfast in his advocacy of Hindu-Muslim unity, which only serves to antagonize various religious factions. At long last freedom comes in but results in the partitioning of India and creation of a new predominantly Muslim country: Pakistan. Did Gandhi achieve what he set out to do?

Were his goals realistic? Did his principles endure beyond his lifetime? These are the questions that permeate the book. Lelyveld, who has traveled extensively in both South Africa and India as a correspondent for The New York Times, has lifted his volume above similar titles on the market by incorporating many little-known facts and episodes.

At times the author is a skeptic, searching for patterns of behavior or possible hidden motives of his subject even in minor matters. These digressions are refreshingly candid, although on occasion they may seem tiresome. Seattle writer Bharti Kirchner is the author of four novels.

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Joseph Lelyveld



'Great Soul,' by Joseph Lelyveld: review


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