A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments - his success in seizing India’s imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, and his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the country’s minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.
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.
©2011 Joseph Lelyveld (P)2011 Random House Audio
trying to see the world with my ears
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.
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.
The book is excellent history. The narration is almost perfect with the right balance of pitch and sonority. As I grew up and lived in India for more then 30 years, cannot understand the quibbles of other reviewers regarding pronunciation.
There have been enough reviews of the book, so let me focus on the narration. This is a horrible audio edition period. The narrator caricatures Indian accents in a manner that is not only melodramatic, but insulting. He fumbles over and mispronounces basic Indian words and expressions and completely mangles common Indian names (Bose, for instance). Audible should be ashamed of itself for not hiring a more competent narrator who could have been more culturally sensitive to the material.
This is a deliberately provocative study of Gandhi--it's intelligent and well written but Llelyveld pointedly emphasizes Gandhi's defeats and admitted inconsistencies. He has no liking for Gandhi's sense of himself as a religious leader, and I don't think a real understanding of Gandhi is possible without this. The reader uses an Indian accent for Gandhi quotes that is downright mocking in tone--close to offensive (would we like someone making Martin Luther King sound like Aunt Jemima?)--and even the other sections are read a little snidely. A surprisingly tasteless reading.
I completely agree with Vikram. The mispronunciation of the names and places were totally inexcusable. The name that kept popping over and over again and butchered all through was the Bengali last name "Bose", pronounced correctly it rhymes with "nose". And it was pronounced as in "Bosay". The book is full of them. What were the producers doing - couldn't they bother to have some one Indian to check the proper pronunciations of the names and places all things Indian? How about having an Indian narrate the book?
The book is skewed to portray the story of Gandhi in as negative a light as possible.
If interested in Gandhi, listen to: An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
I liked the book, although was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a true biography of Gandhi. It is a partial biography, which focuses more on what motivated him. As a partial biography, however, it is certainly good and informative.
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