“indian summer”

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by alex von tunzelmann is a fantastic read.

in the beginning, there were two nations.   one was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth.   the other was an undeveloped, semifeudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses.   the first nation was india and the second was england.  the year was 1577…

in “indian summer,” the 32-year-old author spins an abbreviated history of british colonialism in india, then a fairly complete, terrifically researched and fantastically readable account of the end of the british rule there.   part of the reason her book is so compelling is her description of the personal as well as political lives of key individuals.    as sharon said, “it’s juicy!”

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jawahar nehru (above left) and mohandas (mahatma) gandhi (above right), liaquat ali khan (below left), jinnah (below second left), viscount (dickie) mountbatten of burma (below center), fatima jinnah (below second from right) and (edwina) lady mountbatten (right),  are the key players in the turn-over and von tunzelmann explores their personalities and relationships as a way of understanding the partition and its aftermath.

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dickie, born his serene highness prince louis of battenberg, was a great-grandson of queen victoria.  though “not especially wealthy” and “firmly in royalty’s second class,” he was handsome and extremely charming.    he married the honorable edwina ashley.   she was extremely rich.   they spent 25 years in an unhappy marriage (dickie occupied sinking ships under his commanded and getting the soldiers in his charged slaughtered and edwina having scandalous affairs) before dickie was offered the viceroyalty of india and became responsible for terminating the raj.

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though blundering, dickie comes off as a well-intentioned and honorable man.    nehru is portrayed as a tireless and fair-minded visionary, whose fatal flaw was his blinding personal interest in kashmir.   but it’s edwina who ends up the most interesting character in the story.    her not-so-behind-the-scenes diplomacy was critical to self rule for india.    her humanitarian and human rights efforts were inspirational.   her love affair with nehru was honest and deep.

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this is a really good story.   insightful.   tragic.   beautiful.    read this as an introduction to salman rushdie’s masterpiece “midnight’s children.”

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