cover image Gandhi Before India

Gandhi Before India

Ramachandra Guha. Knopf, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-385-53229-7

This first volume in a two-part biography of Gandhi from Guha (India After Gandhi) proves itself an essential work for its bold purpose, extensive research, and engaging prose. Seeking to address scholarly reliance on the Mahatma’s own writings, Guha looks to a broader range of primary sources, including both Gandhi’s allies and detractors, to explore his “less known and sometimes forgotten” early career. We experience Mohandas Gandhi as he lived and evolved into an “authentically global” prophet of peace, engaged in a process of “dialogue and reconciliation” with a conflicted world. Much of the book chronicles Gandhi’s rise to prominence in South Africa, where he arrived as a multilingual barrister capable of translating between the British and the Indian diaspora. This ability to bridge communities became a foundation for the “unique spirit of ecumenism” that Gandhi developed into a passive resistance philosophy supported by both Eastern and Western precedents. His religious journey was paramount, as he grew beyond the orthodox Hinduism and dietary restrictions of his caste by incorporating perspectives from the Christians, Muslims, Jews, and vegetarians (the Vegetarian Society was his primary social outlet) he befriended throughout his career. Through this excellent volume, Guha demonstrates his deep affinity for the Mahatma with an honest examination of his personal development. Maps & illus. (Apr.)