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Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhi’s sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinent - during 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 history’s 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 leader’s 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 Gandhi’s 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 India’s social conscience - and not just India’s.
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By R.S. on 05-09-11
The development of Gandhi's ideals
This biography provides fascinating insights into the evolution of Gandhi's ideals, and does not whitewash his foibles. The narrative of Gandhi's efforts to eliminate the prejudices and barriers against the lower castes, the untouchables and his valiant campaign to promote Muslim and Hindu coexistence are moving and heartbreaking. The narrator's performance of the text makes this an outstanding listen.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By connie on 04-04-11
Evolution of a great soul
This is not Gandhi hagiography, but neither is it an inflammatory re-interpretation as is suggested by the banning of the book in conservative parts of rural India. Lelyveld (who declares in the intro that his goal is to "amplify not replace existing bios") describes a young Gandhi who could be ambitious as well as altruistic and the subsequent evolution into an older, human Gandhi who could be at times sanctimonious or reinterpret his experience to suit new circumstances (like we all do).
The author brings his long and rich life experience as an observer of India AND South Africa AND Gandhi to the bio so that it's not a short term study for him. His main thesis seems to be that Gandhi failed in his ultimate goal of social justice (bigger than Indian independence), but that doesn't diminish Gandhi's immense historical importance. He focuses on Gandhi the man, not his accomplishments, a "former lawyer, political spokesman and utopian seeker." It's the utopian seeker that we idolize and idealize, but beyond the icon in a loin cloth, Lelyveld shows us a great soul.
This listen is much better narrated than most nonfiction, though for quotations from Gandhi and others, the narrator does attempt an Indian English accent that may not please all listeners.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful