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Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle…

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (2011)

by Joseph Lelyveld

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A fascinating, insightful biography. Rather than telling the story of Gandhi's entire life, Lelyveld focuses on pivotal episodes that shaped the great man's philosophical, political, and spiritual views. This is not the Gandhi superbly portrayed by Ben Kingsely in the hagiographic but wonderful motion picture. Lelyveld has been criticized for his "all too human" portrait of Gandhi but I find it refreshing. Gandhi's eccentricities, flaws, weaknesses, and considerable naivtee in some important matters makes him all the more admirable and interesting. It is difficult to follow Lelyveld's discussions of India's vastly complicated Hindu caste system, but this subject seems to be a challenge for any writer. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
(Written somewhere over Siberia on the plane to Incheon at 3:30 AM EST, god-knows-when actual Korean time)

Gandhi is one of those few figures whose name inspires near-universal reverence. In India, within a barely a century after his death, he is already somewhere between Jesus Christ and the Buddha. Perhaps there are a few diehard colonialists and preservers of Empire who still despise him, and aside from them, those few fervent religious devotees.

Yet he is still controversial. His role in Indian and world history, and the effects of his actions, are still yet to be determined. Great Soul tears open more than a few historical wounds and will no doubt cause history departments and devoted followers and nationalists to erupt with rage for years. It remains uncertain on the extent of his role in the renewal and independence of modern India €û if he is solely responsible for its greatness, or if his meddling inadvertently worsened the centuries of sectarian strife.

In popular views, he is a saint û€û a simple holy man, seen in his biopics and operas. But in the beginning, in South Africa, we see the old story of Gandhiû€ûs awakening in a train as he is forced to sit in the back. He is still then a shrewd and ambitious lawyer, tempted to settle down and work for some social justice causes.

His views then were amorphous, but some guidelines have already been established û€û e.g. Should he include eggs or milk in his vegetarian diet? How are we to properly balance the roles of caste and religion? E.g. some traditional Hindus are in favor of maintenance of the system, etc. He first things of representation within empire, and serves as a medicine stretcher in the Boer War û€û by historical irony, one of the few circumstances where him and Churchill are on the same side. But later his views become more certain û€û Quit India! Village independence, local means of production. The dietary and sexual restrictions are part of a larger goal û€û improved discipline and sanitation. India does deal with the latter to this day.

A popular bugaboo of modern historical biography is discovering traces of homosexuality. German-Jewish bodybuilder named Kallenbach, who at least seems like an old friend more than anything û€û and male friendships were closer and more platonic in the 19th century until just recently.

Up until, and even after his arrival in India, he still has his shrewd political dealings, in contrast to his saintly image. We see discussions with Jinnah, the Pakistani û€ûfather of the nationû€û. Nehru, a û€ûchosen successorû€û. An û€ûuntouchableû€û û€û this one is an astonishing figure in his own right, B. R. Ambedkar, who insists upon his action for Caste Reform. Chandra Bose, who will defect to the Imperial Japanese Army and fights a war of rebellion, in contrast to his own plans of satyagraha û€û using the force of truth.

Unfortunately, we see the limits of satyagraha, with the composition of his letter to Hitler, simply asking him politely to let the Jews go. And then public statements asking the Jews to go peacefully to their deaths, and hope the sheer remorse will overcome the Nazis. This illustrates the fundamental differences between the British and German empires E€E the British Empire only committed genocide when it benefitted their policies E€E the Nazi empire, genocide was open policy and law.

As for what Hitler thought of Ghandi, he is said to have remarked offhand to a British liaison, E€EWhy donE€Et you just shoot him?E€E

His doctrines of non-violence and satyagraha and abst ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
In this ambitious, original study, Pulitzer Prize-winner Lelyveld sets out to measure Gandhi's accomplishments as a politician and an advocate for the downtrodden--against Gandhi's own expectations and in light of his complex, conflicted feelings about his place in Indian history.
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  albanypubliclibrary | Mar 1, 2011 |
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In a sense, "Gandhi" is a gloss on its subject's life rather than a conventional biography, but there is nothing abbreviated about the book. Lelyveld shows us Gandhi in tight close-up, and he places the man in various frames of reference — social, political and religious — that allow us to understand and appreciate him not as a plaster saint but as a flesh-and-blood human who wrote himself into history, and not only because of his shimmering vision of a more perfect world but also because of his sheer force of will.
Of course, any coalition movement ­involves a certain degree of compromise and occasional hypocrisy. But Gandhi's saintly image, his martyrdom at the hands of a Hindu fanatic in 1948 and Martin Luther King Jr.'s adoption of him as a role model for the American civil-rights movement have largely protected him from critical scrutiny. The French man of letters Romain Rolland called Gandhi "a mortal demi-god" in a 1924 hagiography, catching the tone of most writing about him. People used to take away the sand that had touched his feet as relics—one relation kept Gandhi's ­fingernail clippings—and modern biographers seem to treat him with much the same reverence today. Mr. Lelyveld is not immune, making labored excuses for him at every turn of this nonetheless well-researched and well-written book.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307269582, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011: With Great Soul, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld accomplishes the difficult task of humanizing the fabled "Mahatma." Utterly unafraid of depicting Gandhi's less palatable tendencies--shameless self-promotion, inscrutable sexual mores, and an often narrow and ethnically specific application of his evolving political tenets--Lelyveld instead stands the man up against the myth. Comprehensively researched and confidently written, Lelyveld's exploration of Gandhi's politically formative years in South Africa, and the international profile he later secured in India, demonstrates laudable (if not unflinching) critical distance from his subject. It takes a brave biographer to pull this off respectfully. (See Christopher Hitchens’s book on Mother Theresa for a contrary and maudlin example.) Lelyveld is up to the job, delivering an ultimately indispensable take on the flesh-and-blood man who may have been his own best hagiographer. Everyone with an interest in Gandhi--from incurable skeptics to unabashed devotees--should find much to learn from one of the year’s best biographies to date. --Jason Kirk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:13 -0400)

In this ambitious, original study, Pulitzer Prize-winner Lelyveld sets out to measure Gandhi's accomplishments as a politician and an advocate for the downtrodden--against Gandhi's own expectations and in light of his complex, conflicted feelings about his place in Indian history.… (more)

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