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Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi Hardcover – January 7, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039573097X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395730973
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #710,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The veteran author of critically praised books about Emily Brontë and Lucie Duff Gordon has written an exemplary popular biography of the powerful, controversial prime minister who indelibly shaped the world's largest democracy. Katherine Frank's solidly researched narrative is particularly good on the early years of Indira Gandhi (1917-84), cogently delineating her complex relationship with her father, nationalist hero Jawaharlal Nehru, which was intimate when they were pouring out their feelings in letters, but strained when they were actually together. We see an intelligent, strong-minded woman coming of age in a turbulent time marked by her relatives' frequent stays in prison as India struggled for freedom from Great Britain. After independence, when Nehru became prime minister, Gandhi was politically active but for many years resisted seeking power in her own right. Following the deaths of her husband (Feroze Gandhi, no relation to the Mahatma) in 1960 and Nehru in 1964, she moved into the top spot, aided by the Congress Party bosses' mistaken impression that she would be a figurehead they could manipulate. On the contrary, Frank shows Prime Minister Gandhi prompted by her deep fear of disorder toward increasingly authoritarian acts, most notoriously the state of emergency declared in 1975, when she authorized the arrest of many opposition leaders. Frank depicts Gandhi as having more faith in her personal bond with the Indian people than in the messy workings of democracy. But the religious and political divisions inflamed by her policies came home to roost in 1984, when she was assassinated by her own bodyguard, a Sikh enraged by the massacre of militant Sikhs in the Golden Temple. This sympathetic but unsparing portrait makes it clear that Gandhi was a flawed leader but evinces compassion for a woman striving with a difficult personal and political legacy. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

The most striking aspects of Frank's readable, well-wrought biography are Gandhi's sad childhood and her reluctance to enter politics. She attended upwards of seven schools in Switzerland, England and India and was often separated from her family her tubercular mother died when Indira was 19; her father and many family members were in and out of jail during the Independence Movement. Indira herself was sickly (she spent 10 months in a sanatorium in Switzerland during WWII), and, at 37, she wrote to a friend, "I am doing a tremendous amount of work these days but I have not discovered my m‚tier yet." Schoolmate Iris Murdoch remembered Gandhi as "very unhappy, very lonely, intensely worried about her father and her country and thoroughly uncertain about the future." Only after the deaths of her husband, Feroze Gandhi; her father; Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first leader; and Lal Bahadur Shastri, his successor, did she come into her own politically. Not a political biography, Frank's book (via letters and conversations with close confidants) comes closest to showing the human Indira who joined politics because she felt duty-bound to uphold her father's secular, inclusive vision of her homeland. Frank (A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; etc.) shows that Gandhi's increasing isolation, loss of confidence and closeness to her son, Sanjay, caused her later to impose the Emergency (suspending civil liberties and jailing opponents) and play castes, religions and political groups against one another contrary to her father's ideals. But she is far less knowable in the book's second and third sections, when she becomes the paranoid, ruthless leader remembered for her despotism. 12 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Virginia Barber. (Aug. 14)Forecast: As the first biography of the late Indian leader, this will surely receive review attention and should sell well among those interested in India and in the life of an extraordinary woman.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

The great thinkers of that day were more forward-thinking and openminded than most people are even today!
avid reader
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Indira, or those looking to gain some understanding of the modern history of India.
J. Marren
Perhaps the only place where it is lacking is that Ms.Frank deals with the last 2 yrs of her life in very few pages.
Pramit Ghosh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J. Marren VINE VOICE on October 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating introduction to 20th century Indian history through the story of an absolutely fascinating woman. Indira's early years as part of the most prominent family in India post-independence were chaotic--her education was haphazard, her health very poor, her sense of security forever damaged by periodic visits to jail by her father and even once by her tubercular mother. Her life goals were confused--she longed for anonymity as those around her pushed her into the limelight. Her marriage was troubled and she had children against the advice of her doctors.
Indira's political life began in my opinion with her decision to separate from her husband and live with her father and become his "right hand woman," plus the advent of anti-biotics which cured her own TB for good. She became strong and accustomed to power, but never overcame the fear and suspicion of others and fear of disorder which so tragically played itself out in her own political career.
This book is over-sympathetic to Indira during her years in power. Taking advantage of certain constitutional provisions which thank god have no equivalent in the US, she systematically dismantled local governments which were the backbone of this country that is fractured by ethnic and religious conflict. She surrounded herself with loyal but not very wise men, and as the older generation of politicians retired from public life, a new generation of leadership failed to emerge in the corrupt, authoritarian atmosphere she created. She allowed her son Sanjay to roam uncontrolled and sat by as he knocked off enemies, took enormous bribes and payoffs, and perpetrated some of the worst injustices of the Emergency.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Pramit Ghosh on January 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A fantastic piece of journalism!! A very well written account of one of India's greatest leaders. I have not lived long enough to testify to the truth of everything that is written (my parents could!!) but from what I know of Indian history, and from what I have seen around me, a very accurate potrayal of perhaps India's most charismatic prime minister. The book really charts her rise, fall and re-emergence on the political scene, delves into the feelings behind her every action. I had always wanted more about Indira Gandhi than what was available in the papers and magazines and this book tells me all that I wanted to know. Perhaps the only place where it is lacking is that Ms.Frank deals with the last 2 yrs of her life in very few pages. Perhaps more detail was warranted there, but her early life, her relationships with her husband, Feroze Gandhi, and her father, Nehru, are vividly potrayed and it is these parts, and the story of her rise to power, which makes this book a masterpiece. In my opinion, every Indian, and anyone who is interested in Indian history, should read this book. Better still, buy it!!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By avid reader on January 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have read only a few sections so far and I am mesmerized. I feel as if I am back in Indira's time and place.
The research and the annotations make it a very authoritative biography. It contains a must-read account of the ups and downs of her relationship with her husband Feroze (not available anywhere else) and with her father and mother.
Indira emerges as a very lonely, tragic figure.
I feel energized as I read the progressive views of Nehru. The passages where he describes his expectations for Indira - to work in public life yet also be financially independent are empowering. The great thinkers of that day were more forward-thinking and openminded than most people are even today!
This biograhy is long overdue and is comparable in stature to that of John Adams by David McCullough.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Craig Willy on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Indira Ghandi was the prime minister of India from the 1960s and 1980s. She is the daughter of India's first PM, Nehru, and was raised in part by Mahatma Gandhi. Confusingly, however, she married a completely unrelated Feroze Gandhi who granted her that famous last name. This is a monster of a book at over 500 pages, copiously annotated and extremely detailed.

The most striking thing I found reading the book was how weak and non-existent Indira seems in her youth and early adulthood. She is unendingly ill with pulmonary diseases, painfully thin, does poorly at school, and floats around Europe and India with her family (she attended the world's first international school, l'Ecole Internationale, in Switzerland for League of Nations brats). She has no normal childhood or youth as the whole Nehru family is deeply involved in the Indian independence movement. They all periodically have to face jail time (a veritable rite-of-passage) for their activities, which the British government calls seditious.

She marries an ambitious, hot-headed and energetic Feroze Gandhi in 1942 despite the misgivings of her father Nehru. Though they were sincerely in love and they produced two sons, the marriage proved a miserable one. Indira was more committed to her father's political work (who becomes PM of independent India) than her husband (who quickly begins having a number of a more-or-less open affairs). I was struck by how Indira lives for others, she has no independent personality, not until in 1959, at age *fourty-two*, she deems that she has repaid her debt to her family and must live her own life. Tragically good timing, because both her husband Feroze and her father Nehru would die within the next few years.
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