Is it possible for one man to permanently alleviate centuries of
hatred and misunderstandings?
While employed at the New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld reported
South Africa, and then from India. Decades before, one of the
world's most famous individuals, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi -
better known as Mahatma ("great soul") - had lived in both
countries in the same consecutive manner. As a result, Lelyveld
thinking and writing about the complicated, consequential man,
assassinated in 1948 at age 78.
Now in his seventies, Lelyveld has written an unusual book,
to find the words to understand Gandhi, a man who in many ways,
sure, was a saint - but a saint who sometimes contradicted
and who pretty much failed to change the world in the ways that
To call Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India a
biography is to stretch that genre's meaning. The book does not
claim to cover all the important events and individuals in
life; its progression is not always chronological; and Lelyveld's
speculative passages undocumented by hard evidence are numerous.
call the book an extended essay is to stretch another genre's
boundaries, because normal essays do not go on for nearly 400
Review of "Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an
Perhaps the best classification for the book is to call it a
rumination, based on copious research and intellectual passion
author's search for the answer to this question: Is it possible
one individual to permanently alleviate centuries of hatred and
misunderstandings over a vast geographical territory?
Born in 1869 near the Arabian Sea in the vast land mass
multiple languages and cultures now known as India, it seemed as
Gandhi's future would be mapped out by his family, as was
then. He was betrothed by his family at age six to Kastur
they married when Gandhi was 13 and became parents as teenagers.
some extent, Gandhi broke free of the imposed constraints,
to England at age 19 to study law. He became a lawyer in Bombay,
in 1893 his lawyerly vocation took him to South Africa, where he
would remain nearly full time until 1914.
Many other men and women born in India resided in South Africa,
those exiles often received second-class treatment from the
Caucasians of Afrikaner Dutch descent, the same ruling class that
treated South African blacks as subhuman.
Nothing about Gandhi as a young Indian lawyer in South Africa
immediately suggested he would become an apostle of passive
resistance in a struggle to deliver de facto and de jure equality
the oppressed in either South Africa or India. Nor did anybody
foresee that Gandhi - a husband of an arranged marriage who
fathered four sons with his wife - would soon renounce sexual
contact, meat and most other foods, and would begin what seems to
have been a homoerotic relationship with Hermann Kallenbach, a
architect transplanted from East Prussia to South Africa. …