From Publishers Weekly
The transfer of power from the British Empire to the new nations of India and Pakistan in the summer of 1947 was one of history's great, and tragic, epics: 400 million people won independence, and perhaps as many as one million died in sectarian violence among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In her scintillating debut, British author von Tunzelmann keeps one eye on the big picture, but foregrounds the personalities and relationships of the main political leaders—larger-than-life figures whom she cuts down to size. She portrays Gandhi as both awe inspiring and, with his antisex campaigns and inflexible moralism, an exasperating eccentric. British viceroy Louis Dickie Mountbatten comes off as a clumsy diplomat dithering over flag designs while his partition plan teetered on the brink of disaster. Meanwhile, his glamorous, omnicompetent wife, Edwina, looks after refugees and carries on an affair with the handsome, stalwart Indian statesman Nehru. Von Tunzelmann's wit is cruel—Gandhi... wanted to spread the blessings of poverty and humility to all people—but fair in its depictions of complex, often charismatic people with feet of clay. The result is compelling narrative history, combining dramatic sweep with dishy detail. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)
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The end of the British Raj remains a controversial topic among historians. Could partition have been avoided if British and Indian politicians were more prudent? Could the communal violence that cost up to a million lives have been avoided or at least mitigated? Although Von Tunzelmann touches on these questions, she does not attempt to answer them, but perhaps those answers are beyond the scope of this general history of the closing years of British control. Instead, she provides an interesting look at the key players in this tumultuous period. Despite the title, there are no startling revelations here. But Von Tunzelmann's portrayals of Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhi, and Louis Mountbatten are often provocative and at odds with more conventional views. Gandhi, for example, is seen as rather rigid, sometimes petty, and maddeningly indecisive. Nehru, the giant of Indian nationalist aspirations, seems more British than the British themselves and distinctly uncomfortable as a leader of a mass movement. This is not a particularly comprehensive account, but for general readers, this work will be very valuable. Freeman, Jay