In the tradition of The Rape of Nanking and A Problem from Hell, this account will change the way we think of Churchill and World War II.
In 1943 Winston Churchill and the British Empire needed millions of Indian troops, all of India's industrial output, and tons of Indian grain to support the Allied war effort. Such massive contributions were certain to trigger famine in India. Because Churchill believed that the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, he proceeded, sacrificing millions of Indian lives in order to preserve what he held most dear. The result: the Bengal Famine of 1943-44, in which millions of villagers starved to death.
Relying on extensive archival research and first-hand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war unfolded and to ignore the corpses piling up in the Bengali countryside. The hypocrisy, racism, and extreme economic conditions of two centuries of British colonial policy finally built to a head, leading Indians to fight for their independence in 1947.
Few Americans know that World War II was won on the backs of these starving peasants; Mukerjee shows us a side of World War II that we have been blind to. We know what Hitler did to the Jews, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, what Stalin did to his own people. This story has largely been neglected, until now.
"[W]ell-researched…This gripping account of historical tragedy is a useful corrective to fashionable theories of benign imperial rule, arguing that a brutal rapaciousness was the very soul of the Raj." (Publishers Weekly)
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A fascinating narrative with a flawed narration
It's a pretty good audiobook. I've just listened to all of Simon Schama's "History of Britain" which ended off with some scathing commentary on the mismanagement of the Raj so it's interesting to move from that to an in-depth exploration of the Bengal Famine and India in the war effort.
Probably Madhav Sharma, who did a superb job with Kim. Mr Adams isn't a bad narrator per se, but the main problem is that he can't code switch accents when pronouncing a number of Indian terms and names which means that they sound tortured and very odd in his rather plummy British accent. This is, I suppose forgivable in the first couple of chapters where we get fleeting references to "die-wanns" (diwans) and so forth but in a book dealing primarily with India in the Inter-War period, the Second World War and it's aftermath, an inability to pronounce "satyagraha" or "Bose" (protip- it's not "Bo-Say") can be really jarring and jerks one out of the flow. It's as if I were listening to a history of the American Revolution and kept hearing about "George Wossingteen" (not that I'm trying to equate Bo-say with General Wossingteen) and the "Con-TINE-ental Congroos".
I wouldn't choose not to buy this audiobook just because of the narrator- in all else he's reasonably easy to listen to and Mukarjee's narrative itself is compelling and well written.
tedious at times
- another know it all