cover image Rebels Against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom

Rebels Against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom

Ramachandra Guha. Knopf, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-101-87483-7

Brits and Americans who joined India’s struggle against British rule are remembered in this vibrant historical study. Historian Guha (India After Gandhi) profiles seven Westerners who moved to India and participated in its 20th-century independence movement: Annie Besant, a British-born theosophist and leader in the Indian National Congress; Benjamin Guy Horniman, a British pro-independence newspaper editor; Samuel Stokes, an American-born missionary and farmer who converted to Hinduism; Mira Behn, a British-born concert pianist who became Mohandas Gandhi’s ardent ashram disciple—even monitoring his bowel movements—and envoy; Philip Spratt, a Communist organizer from England who drifted from Marxism to Gandhism; Dick Keithahn, an American missionary and organizer; and Catherine Mary Heilemann, another British-born ashram student of Gandhi. Guha gives a lively recap of their exploits—crafting defiant articles and speeches, organizing peasants and workers, sparring with imperial officials, stewing in jail—but at heart their stories are about Anglo-Americans falling in love with Hindu culture and spirituality; with Gandhi, the charismatic “Mahatmaji” whom they revered; or, in some cases, with ordinary people. Guha’s elegantly written group portrait ably conveys the passion and idealism of the Gandhian independence movement and its hold over the Western imagination. Photos. (Feb.)