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Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

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A re-creation of one of the key moments of twentieth-century history: the partition and independence of India, and the final days of the Raj.


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A re-creation of one of the key moments of twentieth-century history: the partition and independence of India, and the final days of the Raj.

30 review for Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Tunzelmann has concocted a very readable and balanced history of the last days of Empire. Tunzelmann avoids demonizing any sect, individual or nation and shows the circuitous routes through which every decision was squeezed out, many tragedies averted and many more inadvertently precipitated. He shows the human frailties and noble aspirations of all of the major participants and does not shirk away from exploring the controversial bullheadedness of Gandhi or from going into great detail about th Tunzelmann has concocted a very readable and balanced history of the last days of Empire. Tunzelmann avoids demonizing any sect, individual or nation and shows the circuitous routes through which every decision was squeezed out, many tragedies averted and many more inadvertently precipitated. He shows the human frailties and noble aspirations of all of the major participants and does not shirk away from exploring the controversial bullheadedness of Gandhi or from going into great detail about the relationship between Nehru and the Mountbattens, especially the amorous ones. This was perhaps the best handled of all the topics by Tunzelmann - he weaves an almost spiritual love story between Nehru and Edwina that borders on the outrageous but always forces the reader to forgive two extraordinarily humane characters who happened to need each other a bit too much. Even Jinnah and Patel (and Churchill - if only he had met Nehru or Gandhi in person a bit earlier than when he did!) who are often slotted as extremists show their emotional sides and it does feel like Tunzelmann gives them their due - enough blame but also enough praise. Tunzelmann does dwell too much on the Mountbattens - almost to the extend that the reader might well start imagining that they were the Empire that the book is meant to talk about and their "secrets" were the "Secret" that the subtitle of the book boasts about. If that is the case, the book does indeed uncover some welcome secrets about the end of "Empire". But, from a political and historic standpoint, there were not many secrets that Tunzelmann brings to the fore. He does throw light on some of the most-discussed events such as the drawing of the Kashmir boundary lines, the allocation of Punjab districts, the annexation of Hyderabad etc and how all of these were such intensely personal decisions - different people at the helm might have resulted in drastically different outcomes - they were less politically motivated than emotionally driven. For these insights, Indian Summer was a thoroughly readable and unbiased book and well worth reading to understand the inscrutable and amazing human actors that populated one of the most dramatic events of the century.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    My opinion coming into this book was that had Edwina Mountbatten established a ménage a quatre including Jinnah instead of simply a trois excluding him then the business of partition at the end of the British Raj might have been entirely avoided. In part this was confirmed by reading this book, leaving me to imagine that I had formed my view after reading a review of von Tunzelmann's account in the first place. The young noblewoman, von Tunzelmann, was known to me from her occasional column of re My opinion coming into this book was that had Edwina Mountbatten established a ménage a quatre including Jinnah instead of simply a trois excluding him then the business of partition at the end of the British Raj might have been entirely avoided. In part this was confirmed by reading this book, leaving me to imagine that I had formed my view after reading a review of von Tunzelmann's account in the first place. The young noblewoman, von Tunzelmann, was known to me from her occasional column of reviews of historical, or rather 'historical' films, and she displays the same qualities of wit and research here in this book (view spoiler)[ As you can see from the first quote below - since no doubt there were some people in early Seventeenth century India as much as in England who were illiterate, diseased and smelt bad - she has an occasional fondness for overdrawing a comparison to achieve a sharp effect. (hide spoiler)] , though in places I wondered if this book was maybe too much fun considering the nature of the topic, but then judging from my own first paragraph this is an unavoidable part of discussing partition and the creation of India and Pakistan. This is a lively, engaging, narrative history that concentrates on the several years around 1947. It is full of detail from the Mountbattens increasingly left-wing political views to Jinnah being turned down as a candidate for a safe Labour seat in Yorkshire during the inter-war period on the grounds of coming across as too much of a toff (view spoiler)[ ie too upper class and not the kind of man who'd wear a flat cap (hide spoiler)] . What I learnt was the difficult relationship between Jinnah and Nehru was not the product of deep and irreconcilable differences between Hindu and Muslim communities but rather the close and incestuous (perhaps surprisingly given Gandhi's habit of sleeping naked with some of his own youthful female relatives to test his own celibacy, not literally but figuratively speaking) nature of In dian politics in the first half of the twentieth century (view spoiler)[to my surprise I also found out that Indira Gandhi wasn't the Gandhi's daughter-in-law as I had imagined, but rather her husband changed his similar surname to the one familiar to us today, so Indian politics turned out in at least one relationship to be less incestuous than I had imagined (hide spoiler)] . The two men were rivals; too similar in outlook, education and ambition, and far too interconnected in their personal relationships, to be able to work together. Tragically the only difference that could be fallen back on, to perhaps legitimise their personal rivalry, as something which others could crystallise around was the religious background - had those two been able to sit down, perhaps at dinner in a fashionable restaurant and agreed on a division of power in a post-Empire situation with one, for instance, becoming Prime Minister the other Chancellor of the Exchequer with a wide ranging brief over Economic development, then even without the good offices of Edwina Mountbatten events would have played out very differently. As it was their position in deeply entangled networks of friends and family meant that a disparaging remark made by one over dinner would be heard by the other over their breakfast. Then there were the likes of Gandhi - a man at all costs to avoid having as your father or husband - who for all his stated rejection of the British legal system was one of the more terrifying negotiators to emerge ever from the Temple, and Winston Churchill, who to preserve British sovereignty over the sub-continent apparently would have intrigued with the Devil and in his absence found Jinnah entirely congenial, and if he could not preserve sovereignty and the glamour of Empire he was happy to settle for the hope of lasting influence naturally completely irrespective of any bloodshed that might cause on the ground. Churchill really was a bit of a Boris Johnson. It was against this background that Mountbatten, or Battenberg as he was before the First World War, a cousin of the British Royal Family, was dropped in as Viceroy with a brief from the Atlee government to end the British Empire's dominion over India. Partly on ideological grounds, partly because due to the expense of World War Two, it was completely unaffordable. Mountbatten, despite his naval career which involved colliding with British ships, colliding with British mines, and finally being sunk by the enemy in action - this was turned into the film "In which We Serve" by his friend Noel Coward, a rare instance of a propaganda film being made about an unheroic defeat, before being given a position in command of joint operations and heading up the Dieppe raid disaster (view spoiler)[it is only fair to mention that Churchill's complete disregard for the loss of human life and the keenness of the Canadian government for their soldiers to get into action also played their parts (hide spoiler)] , remained in all circumstances undaunted and confident in his own judgement. His one triumph was managing to get his nephew married to the future Queen of Britain. As it turns out, that ability to manage interpersonal relationships in a way to achieve something out of nothing was useful in winning round most of India's Princes to join the new state. For everything else he had the redoubtable Edwina, who in addition to her passionate relationship with Nehru (view spoiler)[here I ask all readers to remember that Boccaccio several times tells us that one woman may satisfy a man, but it takes many men to please a woman, something that Mountbatten himself was tolerant of (hide spoiler)] Mountbatten appeared to be quite happy living in a room decorated to look like a ship's cabin and being allowed to hold his wife's hand once a month, while Edwina needed something more. A regular rotation of lovers gave her some ease, as did work in emergency relief during and after the Second World War. The relationship between Edwina and Nehru was as politically awkward as it was personally satisfying. One of the ironies that emerges from von Tunzelmann's account is that a very different post Imperial settlement could have been achieved but for the grasping and clinging for power. Had the British accepted early the impermanence of Empire then a transition to Dominion status and then to independence could have proceeded as it had for Canada. It is easy to imagine one who had participated in the cavalry charge at Omdurman living in the Romantic glow of bugle calls and believing in that more than in the reality of Empire, yet something of that passion for the Romance of empire possessed several generations of the political establishment. Given the circumstances alluded to above and expounded in the book, by the 1940s disaster and terrible loss of life were to go hand in hand with Independence. The problem, a millionfold problem, is that this is a high level story of the end of empire. A tale of Viceroys and party leaders. When violence breaks out, it comes from nowhere (view spoiler)[ apart from the Amritsar massacre of course, it was plain where that came from (hide spoiler)] . Equally when it stops, the cessation comes from nowhere. Just looking at party leaders, or even Viceroys, is also problematic. No one is a free agent, even leaving aside the mysteries of character formation and political inclination, they were bouncing about in a dynamic situation responding to how others were responding, grasping, acting. Yet I didn't put down this book with an understanding of the Congress Party or the Muslim League, let alone the communities they were appealing to, and acting in response to. As such I would not swear hand on heart that this is the only book you ever need read on partition, independence, and the end of the Raj. But neither does von Tunzelmann ever pretend it is either. If a book dealing with so much loss of life could ever be accused of being too entertaining, this would be it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Concerning spoilers: this is a history book. I DO talk about India's history. If you consider that a spoiler, read no more. For me, reading the facts several times only helps to cement them into my head. I loved this book from beginning to end. If you want a fiction that is light, do not read it. If you want to really understand the people that pulled off India's independence, then I highly recommend it. It is non-fiction, but of the best kind! You learn about the private and public lives of Nehr Concerning spoilers: this is a history book. I DO talk about India's history. If you consider that a spoiler, read no more. For me, reading the facts several times only helps to cement them into my head. I loved this book from beginning to end. If you want a fiction that is light, do not read it. If you want to really understand the people that pulled off India's independence, then I highly recommend it. It is non-fiction, but of the best kind! You learn about the private and public lives of Nehru, Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Louis(Dickie) and Edwina Mountbatten. The love affair between Edwina and Nehru and between Edwina and her husband Dickie are both amazing. Yes, both men truely loved her. She loved them both too! What the Mountbatten's pulled off is fascinating. You learn so much about Kashmir. Kashmir years before the partition is juxtaposed with the situation in Kashmir following partition, making the difference so alarmingly horrible. You learn a bit about the Indira Gandhi's corrupt and undemocratic leadership and the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. What is so wonderful is that although everything is very correct and factual with a million reference notes, the people come alive. It's the little tidbits that make the difference. And yes, you learn alot about the British royal family. Every page was interesting. Some bits were difficult for me simply b/c I had so much to learn. Don't shy away from the book if you know very little. You absorb what you can. The next book will teach you more, but this is a fabulous place for anybody to start. It is funny too. What some of the guys and gals do and say are priceless. Did you know that Mounbatten was killed by the IRA?! I didn't. Through page 235: This remains totally fascinating! If you want to understand why Kashmir is the big mess it is today, read this book. It is really amazing what Mountbatten accomplished. Maybe if he had taken a little more time there would have been less turmoil? Who knows! The photos are really fun. The pictures of my Mom and Dad fit exactly into this time period. Same clothes, same hair styles, same hats! Through page 100: I certainly did not know that Indira Gandhi was NOT the daughter of Mohandas Gandhi(more commonly called Mahatma Gandhi). She was in fact the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira married Feroze Gandhy, who in the 30s changed the spelling of his last name from Gandhy to Gandhi. Here again the personal relationships are peculiar. Feroze originally was attracted to Indira's mother, but she died in 1936. Then it was her daughter that caught his eye! The name change turned out to be quite a boon to his wife's future career! The more you read history, the more you become aware that changing your name was the thing to do at the beginning of the 20th Century! I also want to mention that the book provides helpful maps and facts are comprehensively noted with references to the sources. Through page 93: Another two prime characters behind Indian independence and the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh are both Winston Churchill and Ali Jinnah, who came to represent the Muslims in India. This man was the leading figure in the formation of Pakistan and became her first Governor-General in 1947. Churchill is only discussed in relation to his role in relation to India. He really hated the Indians and their religion and was vehmently against Indian self-rule. As a good excuse he stated that the opposing religious and caste group would tear each other apart if given self-rule. There is some truth to this if you obseve what later happened.... The funny thing is that Gandhi, in his demand for spotless moral perfection, was also in fact an obstacle to Indian self-rule. There IS comprehensive information about many aspects of Jinnah's life. The important Indian personalities were so often educated in Britain. Although Jinnah was in fact educated at a madrassa in Karachi, he too functioned within the British norms. British high society is so much a part of the scene in which they all moved, the standard against which people were judged. Personally, I find the rampant infidelity of all the men and women quite astounding. I do not like this posh British style of behavior. It drives me nuts...... but this is not a fairy tale, and this IS what happened. I find that so many of the characters are behaving so badly, it makes me disgusted. Through page 57: This book provides in-depth but easily readable text concerning India's independence and the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The focus is on the key players who made independence a reality - beginning with Mohandas Gandhi, then Jawaharlal Nehru, Louis Mountbatten and Prince Edward (David), Prince of Wales. The depiction of these characters, from their youth, is comprehensive. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Gandhi. You learn how his beliefs in passive resistance and non-violence developed. You learn how as a teenager he rebelled - smoking, stealing, eating meat. Then he marries and forms his own family. You lean how it was for his family to live with highly revered person. Life was not rosy for them! He was greatly influenced by his wife. He in fact attributes his belief in non-violence to her. And you learn of his strong support for the British. All the characters mentioned above interact with each other. Their actions came to shape history. The discussion of the royal family had me a bit confused, but how Mountbatten came to be involved with David is interesting. Mountbatten was the great grandchild of Queen Victoria. Tsar Nicholas II, soon to abdicate, was his brother-in-law. All the family connections form an amazing knot of threads. Honestly, I am a little worried I will not be able to keep everything straight...... It is complicated. Nehru's youth is also comprehensively covered. Of course, he will become the first prime Minister of India and have an affair with Mountbatten's wife Edwina, but I haven't come that far. We are still in the formative years. To understand how India's independence was achieved, to understand how Pakistan and Bangladesh came into being, you have to understand the lives of the people who brought it about. ********************** *Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire 5 stars *The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves TBR *Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten TBR

  4. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Lather

    The book has, arguably,the most arresting opening despite being a non fiction (only exception- Orwell's 1984, David Copperfield and Moby Dick) Alex begins the story of British Raj with, "In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive sathe of the earth. The other was an underdeveloped, semi-fedual realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased The book has, arguably,the most arresting opening despite being a non fiction (only exception- Orwell's 1984, David Copperfield and Moby Dick) Alex begins the story of British Raj with, "In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive sathe of the earth. The other was an underdeveloped, semi-fedual realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England" Her excruciating and honest account of how India Sepoys misused their sentiments, in 1857, is almost impossible to read without a crunchy feeling of horror, "The English were shot, beaten to death, hacked with swords, and burned alive. Among the victim was a seven years old girl, her skull sliced in two by a single stroke from a blade; and twenty three years old Charlotte Chambers, the foetus ripped out of her womb and dumped contemptuously on her breasts" Author has an eye for her characters, "Fashionable Indians went to Oxford or Cambridge for their education, and London for their tailoring; they read voraciously the classics of English literature and often speak English as their first language. New Indian generation was growing up with notion of equality, justice, citizenship and democracy" The author has completely changed my opinion the way I look at Gandhi. He was a great politician whom we owe so much for our freedom but also a sadist who preached nonsense, "Women should not resist rape, and they should defeat their assailants by remaining passive and silent." He told Britishers, “Let Nazi take possession of your beautiful island... allow yourself, man, woman and child to be slaughtered." He advised Jewish to give up their own lives as sacrifice and praised Hitler for gaining victory in 1940 without much bloodshed. He forcefully refused his wife to take penicillin, which resulted in her death. However as usual like any other decent and fearless author, a blow on self pity Hindu nationalist, she described Jawaharlal Nehru as Indian Caesar for his unmatchable charisma, hard-work, love for freedom and commitment to scientific and rational thinking I think after ages I have read a decent book on Indian modern history. What a self pity that up until now, I had been immune from this wonderful book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    I chose this book for the purpose of learning more about the events that surrounded the end of the British Raj and the partition of India, being fully aware of its underlying "gossipy" nature. Alex von Tunzelmann presents those tumultuous events and their aftermath through five people: lord Mountbatten and his wife Edwina, the incoming Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and the informal political leader of India Mohandas Gandhi. Although I wasn't I chose this book for the purpose of learning more about the events that surrounded the end of the British Raj and the partition of India, being fully aware of its underlying "gossipy" nature. Alex von Tunzelmann presents those tumultuous events and their aftermath through five people: lord Mountbatten and his wife Edwina, the incoming Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and the informal political leader of India Mohandas Gandhi. Although I wasn't really worried that some "juicy details" might impair any political analysis (since the book is very honest about its nature, plus, history is made and affected by people and their personalities), I was pleasantly surprised by the author's ability to paint a lively picture of her characters and their complex relationships, among which were a colorful pair, joined in an unique marriage, love of pomp and grandeur fantasies, close, life-long friendships, bitter enmities and clashes of powerful wills. While her goal might not be to present an exhaustive account of events, she has included enough history for the reader to be able to grasp the complex and interconnected interactions of the protagonists, whose idiosyncrasies affected how "a stagnating mess [was turned] into perhaps the most successful retreat from empire in history — from the point of view of the imperialist nation, at least.” Her depiction of Mountbatten is surprisingly even-handed (and I'd dare say, quite entertaining); while she is not very kind to his many short-comings as a a rather vain man and as particularly inept wartime commander, she still manages to show why and how he was just the man for this specific task: to get Britain out of India as swiftly and cheaply as possible. Britain wanted to quit India with dignity, if possible, but speed above all; the cost in human lives was of secondary importance. Hence, when Gandhi told him "You must face the bloodbath and accept it.", Mountbatten didn't really have a choice - his hands were tied by the particularities of the situation and it is not clear that anyone would have managed to achieve a better result in resolving the hot mess of India's partition. "The very incomprehensibility of what a million horrible and violent deaths might mean, and the impossibility of producing an appropriate response, is perhaps the reason that the events following partition have yielded such a great and moving body of fictional literature and such an inadequate and flimsy factual history. What does it matter to the readers of history today whether there were 200,000 deaths, or 1 million, or 2 million? On that scale, is it possible to feel proportional revulsion, to be five times more upset at 1 million deaths than at 200,000?" Lady Mountbatten's depiction is just as compelling. Her personal eccentricities are not overlooked, but presenting her charitable work throughout her life, the fact that she devoted her considerable intelligence and energy to the service of others, shows why she is universally praised for her life work in relieving the suffering of her fellow human beings, wherever she happened to be located. Tunzelmann devotes many pages to her relationship with Nehru and its possible impact on events (the alienation of Muslim leaders, who feared that through Edwina, Nehru was biasing the Viceroy in favour of Hindus). The author avoids to assert whether that relationship was ever consummated, and it is in fact of no importance whatsoever. The book, while surely not the most definitive work on India's Partition, is worth an excellent rating, being both enlightening and entertaining for a lay reader, who is given many points to think about after turning the last page.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Umesh Kesavan

    A gripping account of the last days of British Raj in India. The book focuses on the personalities of Edwina , Dickie and Nehru to explain how things panned out as they did in 1947. The author's eye for detail and interesting anecdotes make the book a valuable addition to the literature on partition. A gripping account of the last days of British Raj in India. The book focuses on the personalities of Edwina , Dickie and Nehru to explain how things panned out as they did in 1947. The author's eye for detail and interesting anecdotes make the book a valuable addition to the literature on partition.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve Greenleaf

    One of the benefits of reading history is that you don’t have to be an academic historian to succeed in the field. Indeed, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle, Parkman, and Henry Adams, up through many successful and worthwhile practitioners writing today, we have a wealth of non-academic historians who enlighten and entertain us with graceful prose. (I realize one might argue about Adams, since he taught Medieval History at Harvard for a while, but I don’t believe that hi One of the benefits of reading history is that you don’t have to be an academic historian to succeed in the field. Indeed, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle, Parkman, and Henry Adams, up through many successful and worthwhile practitioners writing today, we have a wealth of non-academic historians who enlighten and entertain us with graceful prose. (I realize one might argue about Adams, since he taught Medieval History at Harvard for a while, but I don’t believe that his major works were written while in the academy or for the academy.) Our move to India led me to discover William Dalrymple, who writes beautifully about contemporary India and the Middle East, as well as having written very highly regarded histories set in India and Afghanistan. In fact, via a piece that he wrote for the wonderful Five Books site, I discovered Alex Von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. The title might prove misleading, since the “secret”, as the author notes within her work, was not so much a secret as a little-known or little-discussed (but not completely unnoticed) situation. The “secret” was that the wife of the last British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, had a love affair with the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Of course, this love affair (the details of intimacy remain unknown) unfolded against the huge historic panorama of Independence and Partition. As Dalrymple notes in his remarks about Von Tunzelmann, in focusing on these three actors, she tells the immensely complicated story of Independence and Partition in manner that provides a sense of the immensity of the problems and undertakings without enmeshing us in details that would overwhelm most readers. In addition to focusing on the triangle formed by the Mountbattens and Nehru, she also deals deftly with other significant players such as Gandhi, Jinnah, and Patel in India, and with Churchill, Attlee, and others back in Britain. Von Tunzelmann does an excellent job of setting the scene for the momentous events of Independence and Partition by first establishing the biographies of the main players. Lord Mountbatten, for instance, is from a German family that married into the British aristocracy. Mountbatten, known to friends like such as two British kings and Noel Coward, as “Dickie”, appears in some ways the embodiment of an upper-class British twit. His naval career is in some ways a disaster (such as running a ship aground and having one sunk from underneath him), but it nevertheless leads him to the position of Allied Commander for Southeast Asia during WWII. While inept in some ways, and enamored of pomp, circumstance, genealogies, and medals, he’s also quite charming and persuasive. And, lest you think him a poor cuckold, his marriage to Lady Mountbatten, Edwina, is an “open marriage” from near the beginning. Both carried on rather open affairs and had a complex relationship, to say the least. Edwina, especially in her youth, couldn’t help reminding me of Princess Diana: a rather repressed young woman whose marriage to a much more sedate man seems to have released a rather marked free-spiritedness. But like Lady Di (after demotion), Edwina found a serious and very successful calling helping out in London during the Blitz and maintaining a very active, hands-on roll in India and Pakistan dealing with the human misery found here both before and after Partition. The third person of our triumvirate, Nehru, had morphed from a young, Indian-British dandy (Cambridge and all) into a national leader. He underwent an arranged marriage and never seemed very happy about it. His wife, an apparently pious woman in contrast to his militant (if publicly restrained) atheism, died relatively young, so that Nehru was a widower at the time he came to know Edwina in the mid-1940s. Von Tunzelmann keeps her narrative moving, weaving the personal lives of the Mountbattens and Nehru together to meet in the momentous years of 1947 and 1948 and then apart again. In addition, she keeps the big picture in focus. Her passing remarks and judgments, such as how Gandhi’s peculiarities, irrelevancies, and standing in world opinion alternately retarded and forwarded the cause of independence and Hindu-Moslem relations, leaves one wanting more, but not at all disatistfied. (Gandhi’s life and role in all of this, of course, fills volumes.) She also remarks on the irony that I noticed immediately upon coming to India: Gandhi’s likeness adorns all denominations of rupee notes. A rather ironic honor for an ascetic who thought all India should follow his austere example. Von Tunzelmann writes with a light but perceptive hand. She deftly manages the many facts, or where evidence lacks, caution and restraint marks her prose. She also displays a light sense of irony appropriately deployed. In this description of the Indian Assembly at the turn of midnight that marked Independence, she writes: As the chimes sounded and the unexpected blast from a conch shell startled the delegates in the chamber of the Constituent Assembly, a nation that had struggled for so many years, and sacrificed so much, was freed at last from the shackles of empire. Yes, Britain was finally free. She’s not being cute or coy here: her narrative has established the draining demands of Empire upon the war-impoverished Brits such that most—except Churchill and a few other die-hards—realized and wanted desperately to unload the burden that India and Empire represented. If one enjoys reading a history that interweaves the personal into the grant narratives of empires, nations, and peoples, as many a great novel as done, then you can’t expect to find a more engrossing account of the extraordinary people and events portrayed here. An outstanding work. Interesting note: The cover photos on my copy of the book purchased here in India shows the Mountbattens standing together with Gandhi; in the U.S. editions, they are pictured on the cover with Nehru, who's laughing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ujjwala Singhania

    An entertaining book with an irreverent and tounge in cheek writing style. The story of the great British Empire at the crucial time of two World Wars and Indian Independence is written with three major participants as its central figures - Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Mountbatten. The book narrates the life history of these three people and their role in India-Pakistan partition and independence. The author takes us on a journey to the world of royalties and how they lived their An entertaining book with an irreverent and tounge in cheek writing style. The story of the great British Empire at the crucial time of two World Wars and Indian Independence is written with three major participants as its central figures - Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Mountbatten. The book narrates the life history of these three people and their role in India-Pakistan partition and independence. The author takes us on a journey to the world of royalties and how they lived their lives with their parties, hunting, touring the colonies, gowns and diamonds. Lord Mountbatten is handsome and dashing but a disaster at every job. His one great quality was to make and use contacts to get ahead in life. So, he endear himself to the prince and king of England and changes his allegiance with the change in monarchy. He is a buffoon and after his adventures in the English Channel during the Second World War when the British govt wanted someone to sort out the mess called India, his name came up and his bosses were only too happy to get him out of their hair. Jawahar, the beloved child of Motilal Nehru, started his life in unimaginable wealth in an enslaved nation. On his return from England, he got mesmerized with the idea of an independent India and dedicated his life in the cause. He was handsome and charming with a short temper. He was the protégé of Gandhi, a charismatic leader, with a child like innocence, a reluctant Prime Minister who wanted to leave politics and retire. His one fault was his handling of Kashmir during partition. He couldn't separate his feelings of his roots, being a Kashmiri Pandit, and he wanted Kashmir to be a part of India at all cost. Edwina, Lady Mountbatten, one of the wealthiest women in the world had a series of love affairs, Nehru being one of her admirers. They had this great love affair which started when the Mountbattens came to India as the last Viceroy, but it cannot be proved how far the relationship went. Lord Mountbatten had always been aware of her many affairs and even fascinated them because he couldn't live without her. And so he encouraged her affair with Nehru as well, there was no political motivation and manipulation behind it. Edwina was intelligent, she had wits which her husband lacked. She transformed from a social butterfly into a woman with a cause during Second World War with her ambulance service and similar other relief works during partition. In her element, she was a force to reckon with and could get things done. She was also helping shape policies behind the scene because of her influence over Nehru and Gandhi. Gandhi was this little man in a loin cloth who was considered an evil genius by the Empire who hated him. Their dilemma was they wanted him to die, especially during one of his so called fasts, but couldn't let him die on their watch, in the glare of international media. And some of his actions and statements mentioned in the book really paints him evil. I believe Gandhi would have certainly faded into ignominy post independence if he were alive. Godse did a disservice by killing him and making him a martyr for eternity and damnned the nation. Jinnah was a secular professional with great political acumen, greater than Nehru, who believed in Hindu Muslim unity. It was his distrust of Gandhi, a stray comment by Nehru on his political currency and several short sighted actions of INC that made him demand a separate nation. Even then the demand was just to put pressure on the govt for a fair deal given to Muslim in the independent India then an actual desire for a new carved out country. And per the author, though he asked for Pakistan, till the very end he didn't believe it would become a reality and didn't know what to do with it when he became the premier of a new country. He didn't want the responsibility. It makes for an enjoyable reading even if you don't agree with how the various figures have been portrayed and the accolades and blames apportioned to them for their various decisions. However, the reason for my two-star rating is how several of the events were stated as facts in the book. A few examples - though Jinnah gave a call for Direct Action Day, the bloodbath was started by people from both religions. Naokhali was a riot like any other that was happening elsewhere in India. Bengal famine happened because British govt moved supplies out of India to feed its army during war, however, the blame lies with the Govt of Bengal because there was enough ration in the warehouses to feed the masses but they didn't release it. The persecution during the great migration started in India-side of Punjab by Hindus and Sikhs which expanded to Delhi, Bengal and elsewhere (written in gory detail) and only as a reaction to this the riots started in Pakistan. The wealthy Hindus and Sikhs started fleeing to India even after Jinaah personlly made assurances to their safety. The pathan tribesmen invaded Kashmir as a response to the persecution happening in India and Jinnah and his govt didn't have any hand in it. Finally, Sardar Patel wanted India to be a Hindu nation and gave his support to Hindu Mahasabha. He also went to Mountbatten to help him get the 565 princely states to accede to India. So, it was Mountbatten and not Patel who brought the various princely states to sign the IOU in favor of India. Patel was truculent and a bully; his actions against Junagadh was unnecessary and against Hyderabad was uncalled for. The issue of Kashmir was of Nehru's making despite the best efforts of Mountbatten and exacerbated by Patel. The Maharaja had dubious legitimacy to sign the IOU, Patel had the plan ready to put soldiers on ground even before a final decision was taken and at the end of all Pakistan felt cheated and they were justified in feeling so. These are just some of the events and it doesn't sit well with me, there is also how various events or stories narrated in the book which had this usual condescending attitude couched in subtleties which makes me wonder if these people will ever get off their high horses.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    God six months later and I finish the book. Serves me right to read about vicious civil wars. It was wonderful, depressing and tried to end on an optimistic yet trying to be a little realistic note. I read this on a recommendation by the New Yorker, who seemed to enjoy it except the reviewer was irritated by the author's focus on the open marriage of the last viceroy of India. The reviewer implied it was gossipy. Perhaps because I am a gossip by nature, I enjoyed that aspect, though I saw the re God six months later and I finish the book. Serves me right to read about vicious civil wars. It was wonderful, depressing and tried to end on an optimistic yet trying to be a little realistic note. I read this on a recommendation by the New Yorker, who seemed to enjoy it except the reviewer was irritated by the author's focus on the open marriage of the last viceroy of India. The reviewer implied it was gossipy. Perhaps because I am a gossip by nature, I enjoyed that aspect, though I saw the reviewers point of view at times (it was repetitive), and I felt like the open marriage was pertinent to the topic and influenced many decisions. Unlike many historical texts which follow events or general groups of people, von Tunzelmann's book read like a memoir or novel, focusing in detail on who she believes to be the central players of the end of India. I enjoyed this perspective because there was character development and empathy with the very flawed, complicated and conflicted last Viceroy and his wife, Nehru (first PM of India) and his family, Jinnah (first PM of Pakistan), Gandhi and Churchill and other members of the British government. It was also interesting because it showed how all of these people tried to patch together this impossible situation. From von Tunzelmann's perspective, it was pretty impossible for the English to satisfy all the requests of the Indian people in the quick manner. And I agree, Britain had spent too many years developing and feeding factions and divisions within India for England to leave it in a manner that would facilitate a peaceful, undivided and flourishing India. I do not feel like von Tunzelmann was of a completely post-colonial analytical perspective and at times seemed to be fond of the Mountbattens (the last viceroy), their gossip and their luxurious lifestyle a little to much. She did not go into much of the horror of the British colonialism, besides the basics and numbers of the famine, "European only" signs, and violence against the uprisings. There was no human perspective from the lower classes. This is most likely because she chose to focus on characters from the elite classes. Perhaps there are not that many narratives from the lower classes about this time period, or she just didn't want to write about it. She did however seem generally postmodern in her breaking down that part of the story into little pieces, narratives and perspectives. Overall, it was a good and interesting overview of what happened.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Saswati

    Rating: 3.5 stars, maybe? Edwina Mountbatten is a remarkable woman and this needs to be acknowledged. I shall return to this later. --------------------------------------------------- For a country that boasts nearly five thousand years of history, the mere two hundred years of the colonial rule seems to have the maximum impact, poisoning the psyche of the descendants. Sadly, Indian historians have taken a lot of liberty in portraying a moth-eaten sequence and analysis of events. With the generation Rating: 3.5 stars, maybe? Edwina Mountbatten is a remarkable woman and this needs to be acknowledged. I shall return to this later. --------------------------------------------------- For a country that boasts nearly five thousand years of history, the mere two hundred years of the colonial rule seems to have the maximum impact, poisoning the psyche of the descendants. Sadly, Indian historians have taken a lot of liberty in portraying a moth-eaten sequence and analysis of events. With the generation that witnessed the events of Partition slowly coming to a close, it has become even more imperative to preserve an unbiased and untainted record of events. The Central Board history textbooks have been woefully devoid of any unglorified account, especially that of the all-important freedom movement (Thank you, a series of Congress governments!). My obsession ride started with India's Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra et al., which fired my imagination. How much of the important part of history has been kept secret from us? It was a work of intense and meticulous research, highly academic (though littered with Nehru and Gandhi fanboy moments). This was followed by Wikipedia-sniffing, Brittanica-devouring (irony, I know) days, Googling random events and studying them to great details. The picture slowly started making sense, especially so after a lip-smacking helping of An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor (yes, the same guy who makes headlines for the most complex vocabulary on Twitter. Rodomontade, anyone?). Now, I thought, I am ready to tackle even more complex books. I landed up in Indian Summer. Anti-climatic, I know. No. This is NOT exactly a history book. This book left me in splits; it is replete with the absolutely juicy, page 3-worthy elements of the 1920s and onwards. Presented in an accessible-yet-sophisticated form. It is a welcome relief from historical accounts presented in a dry, jail-food boring manner, which makes people assume that the characters are simply one-dimensional (“Haw! Gandhiji indulged in sex?!”). Subsequent veneration and glossing-over of the flaws of the leaders strips them of the human features, making them absolutely unrelatable. As if they could do no wrong. As if they are not human enough (I consider this akin to de-humanisation, often practised by the warring armies). This book, in the very least, makes them look ‘human’. I knocked the stars off because I felt that the book, in an attempt to weave a fluid, fruitcake-like story, decided to use all-purpose flour: all gluten, little nutrient. 1. Essential characters, who played as important a role as the protagonists, have been relegated to the background. Yes, Gandhi did find a political heir in Nehru Jr., mentioned in the book, at the expense of his progenies. But this was not without soul searching, thinking and overthinking. Other notable candidates like Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel were also given their share of suspense. They have been given only passing mention. Since the Indian summer of independence (or maybe monsoon) was a veritable potpourri of decisions taken by several characters, they deserve their tale to be told. 2. The events and timelines have been botched up a bit. For example, Dharasana Satyagraha, the iconic subset of Dandi March, which took place a month later, has been written as if it took simultaneously (I know I am nitpicking, but I got confused at this page!). 3. Yes yes, the Mountbattens did play an important role in facilitating the exit of British Raj from the “Jewel in the Crown” India. But the couple and their love story, infidelities and high society (mis)adventures simply do not warrant so much page-time, especially when the author has titled the book “Indian Summer”. The author could have chosen another title (or, if not anything else, subtitle), that would have reflected the realities of Indian summer. So, I will talk only about the topics mentioned, about which, in a frenzy of a school-textbook-syllabus-completing spree, nobody bothers to talk about. The author relies heavily on the autobiography of Krishna “Betty” Nehru Hutheesing and borrows several anecdotes and statements. Betty’s sense of humour and observations are spot-on and no-nonsense. She did seem to have a soft spot for her father, despite his nationalist activities resulting in long absences. Prior to reading this book, Motilal Nehru’s biggest claims to fame were (in this order): 1. He was the progenitor of the first Prime Minister, 2. Lead author of the Nehru Report (1928) as a response to the colonial government’s challenge, 3. The guy who started the Swarajya Party with C.R. Das (1924) to contest in elections. This book changed my view of this man. Von Tunzelmann has drawn out the sharp wit and even sharper legal knowledge of Pt. Motilal Nehru in the most fascinating fashion. He was at loggerheads with his son on several matters, but that did not prevent him from holding his own, even against the man he admired the most: Mohandas Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru, Chachaji as we were taught to call him in childhood, was a man born with a silver spoon in the mouth. The author mentions that his marriage was, more or less, a loveless one. But he did dedicate his autobiography to his wife, Kamala (The fanboy club, which wrote the history of India for school kids, quite conveniently forgot to include the contributions of Kamala Nehru (née Kaul)). Nehru spent the 1920s touring the continent of Europe (with the British Secret Service secretly in tow) and was thrilled to have been invited to Russia. He was appalled by the atrocities of Stalin but was equally impressed by the state-led development model. Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, in most discussions, makes an entry in the Indian scene only after Wavell decides enough is enough. Wavell had unkind terms for the Indian nationalists in his journal, especially so for Mohandas Gandhi (“PM managed the discussion well from his point of view, as he drew each speaker away from principle, onto matters of details and waved the bogey of Gandhi at everyone.”). Dickie Mountbatten was related to more than half the royal families of Europe. Combined with the fact that Britain was running on borrowed fuel after World War II, Dickie made a good diplomatic and economic choice as the last Viceroy of India. He has been portrayed as a cookie dough of contrasting natures: vain and airheaded, but determined, navy-obsessed wife-neglecting but a loving husband with an unhealthy obsession towards unnecessary pageantry. He was definitely clumsy, quite adept at scoring own goals. Edwina Mountbatten (née Ashley), the rich heiress, brought up in austerity. The beautiful memsahib who was so much in love with Dickie, she was prepared to travel third-class in the train (Mind you, it was the colonial era). The book chronicles the affectionate relationship she shared with her grandfather and the tumultuous one with father. Edwina, despite being a socialite (with several “scandals” under her belt), has been portrayed as humanly as possible. She was jealous of her husband’s liaisons outside their marriage, which amounted to hypocrisy. Tired of the constant parties, debauchery and an unhappy marriage, she threw herself into travelling, especially in the Middle East (there were no insurgents then), helping her Jewish relatives escape to London, and visiting the air-raid shelters. By the time I reached Part II of the book, my respect for Vicereine Edwina Mountbatten reached unprecedented levels. Why do we not know more about the lady? Why is she pushed to footnotes of books, associated only with scandals, especially the speculations of romance with Nehru? Surely she was much more than that! History writers have done a great disservice to this lady. "A sure sign of her effectiveness was that the Governor General’s aides-de-camp began to try to avoid being on her staff. Anyone required to serve with Edwina would have to help with a variety of gruesome tasks in unpleasant locations." Apart from the free-flowing scandals, the lady was associated with St. John’s Ambulance and worked towards the rehabilitation of riot victims. Unlike her predecessors, she did not feel any qualms to visit Gandhi in an Untouchable colony. Despite the status of their marriage, Edwina exerted an enormous amount of influence on Dickie and made sure that what she asked for was met. The Nehru and Edwina romance is often attributed to the persuasive powers of the latter. There are certain parts which don’t really add up. The author insists that Edwina had an important role in persuading Nehru to accept the plan of Partition. It sounds far-fetched, but I will need to read more on the topic. If you’re an Indian, and you have not heard of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, you do not exist. His teachings and thinking have spawned an entire branch of philosophy (threatening to become a religion), Gandhian philosophy. The man, in a loincloth, took the world by storm, with the likes of Martin Luther and Barack Obama in the fan club. This book is a brave attempt to assign human qualities back to him. True, his teachings have inspired generations of leaders as well as citizens; but his pigheadedness at certain values certainly doesn’t absolve him from all the sins. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t want to have him as my father, husband or any close male relative. Churchill. I put him in the same basket as Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. Take offence, if you must, but I hate that “beastly little man”. One repetitive event that stood out for me was the incessant parties among the rich and powerful elite. While the country was burning, jolted by birth pangs, the ones who were responsible for starting the fire had a voracious appetite for fine wine and food. The author has described the process of Partition quite vividly, bringing out depth and emotions attached. The emotions ran high, with both the infant nations wooing, threatening and cajoling the princely states, as and when necessary. The process was messy, violent and left bitterness for years to come. Jinnah, dismayed at inheriting a “moth-eaten” Pakistan, did not back down from burning the stables of his Indian counterpart. The hues of the first leadership teams of both India and Pakistan continue to colour the countries, even after more than seventy years of independence. The aftermath of Partition, death of Mohandas Gandhi and blossoming of Nehru-Edwina romance coincided with the writing and adoption of the gargantuan Constitution of India. It is nothing short of a miracle. No wonder the previous generation holds it in mythic reverence. If I have to cherry-pick three events that left an indelible impact on Indian National Movement, they would be: 1. Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05: After the brutal blow on the 1857 Revolt, which the author has described in a compact-yet-vivid manner, the morale of Indians was at an all-time low. Sporadic revolts and movements did spring up (Indigo Revolt (1859-60), Pabna Movement (1870), Deccan Riots (1874-79)), but none could scale up the extent in the empire-shaking-o-meter as the revolt of 1857 did (even if its geographical area and expected outcomes were quite small). The Japanese victory gave hope and strength to the nationalists, re-instating the belief that Europeans are not infallible. 2. Rowlatt Act and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre: 1919 was a momentous year in the history of British India. Up till then, Indians (“natives”) had stretched the self-imposed wool over their eyes, blissfully believing that the British empire was benevolent and would treat its colonial subjects in a just manner. However, the notoriety of the Rowlatt Act yanked the wool right out. Coupled with the ghastly Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Indians now definitely woke up to the fact that colonialism is doing them no good. Oh yes, the Great War had just ended. The treatment meted out was an insult to the injury. 3. Salt Satyagraha and Dandi March of 1930: This was a masterstroke, an absolute gem of meticulous planning, a display of discipline by the diligent agitators and astute utilisation of psychological quirks of all: Indians, colonial rulers and foreigners. The Dharasana Satyagraha, especially, captured the imagination of the world audience, leaving them enraptured and numb at the same time. Wave after wave, satyagrahis lay in pools of their own and fellow satyagrahis blood. But nobody raised a finger at the colonial police which showed an ugly face and brutality. The Academy Award-winning movie, Gandhi, has portrayed this event in the most poignant manner. And thus, all the king’s horses and king’s men, could not put the Raj together again. If anything, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was one of the most frighteningly smart politicians of his age. The author mentions in the acknowledgements that the estates of the Mountbattens and the Nehru-Gandhis were not cooperative in providing access to private letters and archives. Considering the amount of hero-worshipping that surrounds the mentioned people, coupled with the Indian mentality of “log kya kahenge (What will people say)?!”, I am not surprised. Do I recommend this book to hatchling history buffs? No! You must get your fundamental knowledge down to T first. Don’t stuff yourself with junk food before you even had a morsel of a balanced diet. Veterans: You may find this fun. And the bibliography quite interesting.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1885608.html A very readable account of the British withdrawal from India, largely from the point of view of Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten, whose papers are used extensively, though with some effort also made to include the roles of the other key political players. On Lord Mountbatten's responsibility for the horrors of partition, I found it was a useful alternative viewpoint to the hatchet-job by Andrew Roberts which I read several years ago. While I think that von http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1885608.html A very readable account of the British withdrawal from India, largely from the point of view of Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten, whose papers are used extensively, though with some effort also made to include the roles of the other key political players. On Lord Mountbatten's responsibility for the horrors of partition, I found it was a useful alternative viewpoint to the hatchet-job by Andrew Roberts which I read several years ago. While I think that von Tunzelmann has become slightly beguiled by her source and gives him more benefit of the doubt than is really justifiable by her own account, though I will agree that mitigating factors include the criminally obstructive attitude of Winston Churchill to Indian independence and Mountbatten's success at persuading almost all the princely states to join the new Indian or Pakistani states - Kashmir and Hyderabad are notorious exceptions but there could have been many more. Her account of the love affair between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten manages to be both entertaining and respectful. Since I work more or less in the field of international conflict resolution, I am struck by how far the level of understanding of these problems has advanced since 1947. In those days the debate was shaped partly by legal rights established by history (or myth) and partly by the rather one-dimensional discourse of anti-colonialism, with very little reference to the actual wishes and needs of people on the ground. The independence of Montenegro from Serbia was achieved with no bloodshed at all, and while Kosovo and South Sudan may have their problems, they have been handled rather better than India/Pakistan (or indeed Israel/Palestine) sixty years before. The mistake that is more often made these days is wishful thinking, where international officials kid themselves that genocidal leaders like Milo��evi�� and Bashir don't really mean it, and then discover that they do; the Indian partition case was a much more straightforward mismanagement of expectations by the political leaders, particularly Mountbatten, to the point that violence became an effective and preferred mode of discourse for many actors. One should not perhaps blame Mountbatten for failing to implement best practices which had not yet been worked out. And yet... what comes across over and over again is how Mountbatten consistently rated his own political and managerial abilities much higher than did anyone who had actually had to work with him. In the end the misjudgements which made the partition of India so much worse than it needed to have been were his misjudgements and nobody else's. So von Tunzelmann did not quite convince me, but she did entertain me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abhinav

    The first thing that comes to my mind after reading Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann is that why does it take a westerner to write such an intriguing story about Indian History. The reason is beyond my comprehension till date as common sense suggests the otherwise. The Indians must be having greater access to archives, letters of iconic personalities and first hand interviews of the survivers. This I am saying as I have also read Indira by Katherine Frank and found it excellent. The Indian S The first thing that comes to my mind after reading Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann is that why does it take a westerner to write such an intriguing story about Indian History. The reason is beyond my comprehension till date as common sense suggests the otherwise. The Indians must be having greater access to archives, letters of iconic personalities and first hand interviews of the survivers. This I am saying as I have also read Indira by Katherine Frank and found it excellent. The Indian Summer is based on dissecting and researching deep into the true personalities and personal lives of Mountbatten and Jawahar lal Nehru in the backdrop of Indian Independence movement, giving an microscopic and magnified version of the last few months on the British Raj in India. Although the book starts in a bit sluggish way describing in detail the lives of Mountbattens in 20s and 30s and Indian freedom struggle but one later feels its requirement in order to personify the true characters and lives of the Mountbattens and to build the story. The book catches the tempo in the later half giving not only the details of the events but also the personal conversations and discussions of the personalities we read so much about and allows us to have a closer glimpses at their personal lives. The book presents the facts not only on the basis of here says and rumors but are thoroughly researched based on the letters exchanged between personalities involved and the evidences gathered otherwise. This book unravels the humane side and peels of the layers of their character and brings to life their common and simpler side of some of the greatest personalities of India. We read about the leadership roles of Nehru, Patel and Gandhi in our history books but its very difficult to personify them with just those details. This book fills the gap between political and personal life of leaders and having human insight into their lives. The writer though falters few times to reach conclusions based on conversations and indirect references but otherwise depicting a neutral account of the events.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Subhashish Sarkar

    I am a history buff and considering the subject of the book, naturally, I had some expectations. However, I was very disappointed not just by how the subject was treated but also by how ill researched the author is about the subject. I guess it takes some time to understand for a new author that writing on history is a delicate matter. You have to be aware when you are thrusting your biased opinions about events and people. You cannot have people painted in black and white. One has to deliver h I am a history buff and considering the subject of the book, naturally, I had some expectations. However, I was very disappointed not just by how the subject was treated but also by how ill researched the author is about the subject. I guess it takes some time to understand for a new author that writing on history is a delicate matter. You have to be aware when you are thrusting your biased opinions about events and people. You cannot have people painted in black and white. One has to deliver history without any bias and let people form their opinions about what transpired. This book is a waste of time and cannot recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Piyush Behera

    An unbiased review of British India during partition.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jyotsna

    Edwina had Fatima invited to tea that week, and struck up a conversation about how encouraging it had been to see Muslim and Hindu students integrating happily at Lady Irwin College. 'Don't be misled by the apparent contentment of the Muslim girls there,' Fatima told her bleakly; 'we haven't been able to start our propaganda in that college yet.' 👁️👄👁️ I am so so so enamoured by this book! Well researched, annotated and a brutal honest deliverance on Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah, Churchill, Attlee, the Edwina had Fatima invited to tea that week, and struck up a conversation about how encouraging it had been to see Muslim and Hindu students integrating happily at Lady Irwin College. 'Don't be misled by the apparent contentment of the Muslim girls there,' Fatima told her bleakly; 'we haven't been able to start our propaganda in that college yet.' 👁️👄👁️ I am so so so enamoured by this book! Well researched, annotated and a brutal honest deliverance on Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah, Churchill, Attlee, the Mountbattens, Patel, Bose and all the other famous people involved in the transfer of power and the partition of India. The book is more about the circus that ensued during and before the years, especially focussing on the attitudes of the people involved. Love the humor, the sarcasm. The best book I have read on this subject!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeeva

    Beautiful insights into the human lives of the most powerful politicians of the era. How their personal lives entwined with their political and how well they managed to walk a tightrope. Lucid narration with a fantastic eye for detail. Strong recommendation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gaurav

    A well-written overview of the political and personal forces that lead to independence, partition and war between Pakistan and India, focusing particularly on the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. What particularly pleased me about this book was its value use as an 'addendum' to Freedom at Midnight. "Freedom" follows Mohandas Gandhi and Louis Mountbatten through 1947-48; Tunzelmann focuses instead on Nehru, Edwina Mountbatten, and (to a far lesser degree) Jinnah. Taken A well-written overview of the political and personal forces that lead to independence, partition and war between Pakistan and India, focusing particularly on the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. What particularly pleased me about this book was its value use as an 'addendum' to Freedom at Midnight. "Freedom" follows Mohandas Gandhi and Louis Mountbatten through 1947-48; Tunzelmann focuses instead on Nehru, Edwina Mountbatten, and (to a far lesser degree) Jinnah. Taken together, these two books complement each other beautifully. Tunzelmann also points out Mountbatten's exaggerations, extremely helpful if (like me) you took "Freedom at Midnight" at face value. I'd like to mention especially the biographies of all the major players at the start of the book - they are wonderfully concise, and skip historical details in order to quickly provide a flavour of the character described. From my readins of previous biographies of Gandhi, I can confirm that although they skip many of the key events in his life, they yet manage to give the reader a deep, enduring impression of his personality, history and circumstance of Gandhi, normally only accessible to those who have waded through the thickest of his biographies. My biggest disappointment was the focus on Nehru and the Mountbattens; I was mislead by the title to suppose that the author meant to focus on Partition as seen from both sides of the new borders. I'd've rated this book a 3/5 or 3.5/5.0 if it weren't for the author's sharp and witty prose, which was a delight to read. Even if you're familiar with the history of this period, the writing ensures that this book is something you must try at least once.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lilisa

    An interesting and detailed historical account of the end of the British Empire in India (which included West Pakistan and East Pakistan or Bangladesh as we know it today) and the bloodbath that heralded Pakistan and India's independence in 1947. Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten and his wife Edwina's lives were intrinsically intertwined with the political upheaval. As Viceroy of India and then Governor General, Dickie worked front and center on behalf of the British government - as negotiator, facilit An interesting and detailed historical account of the end of the British Empire in India (which included West Pakistan and East Pakistan or Bangladesh as we know it today) and the bloodbath that heralded Pakistan and India's independence in 1947. Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten and his wife Edwina's lives were intrinsically intertwined with the political upheaval. As Viceroy of India and then Governor General, Dickie worked front and center on behalf of the British government - as negotiator, facilitator and mediator, among other things. On stage with the legendary figures of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and scores of others, the long-time British strategy of divide and rule in India played out as the struggle for one country vs two or three or more unfolded. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the rulers of principalities fought to have their own country or fiefdom setting the stakes dangerously high with unrealistic expectations, conflicting goals and the struggle for power. An absorbing and intimate portrayal of the character and personality that was Mountbatten and his relationship with his wife Edwina and her work and relationships with several, including Nehru. A book well worth the read, particularly for historical buffs.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shariq Chishti

    Tunzelmann has written a fascinating & readable history of the partition of India for the uninitiated. Anyone with even a slight interest in modern history of the subcontinent would be aware of this period but where Tunzelmann succeeds is in weaving the story through the brilliant & flawed characters like Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbattens & Jinnah. She brings to the fore eccentricities & colorful nature as well as strengths and weaknesses of these characters. She is also very objective in her narrativ Tunzelmann has written a fascinating & readable history of the partition of India for the uninitiated. Anyone with even a slight interest in modern history of the subcontinent would be aware of this period but where Tunzelmann succeeds is in weaving the story through the brilliant & flawed characters like Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbattens & Jinnah. She brings to the fore eccentricities & colorful nature as well as strengths and weaknesses of these characters. She is also very objective in her narrative by not favoring or demeaning any particular sect or personality. The book starts very slowly with many pages dedicated to the early lives of Mountbattens & even of Nehru & Gandhi but I believe it would be very interesting & enlightening to the western readers. The partition was one of the most gruesome chapter in the history of subcontinent and even modern world history, truly a blot of humanity but Tunzelmann was able to handle subject with immense care. Finally, I wish Tunzelmann had written more about Pakistan as well.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mythili

    An excellent history of the summer of partition told through the personalities of the the key elite figures involved—in particular, Dickie Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Edwina Mountbatten. The Mountbattens were a glamorous, zany, and completely fascinating couple whose influence on Indian Independence is hard to overstate. There are so many great details (though he had his virtues, Dickie is basically a joke—he’s the naval commander who kept sinking his own ships, the Governor-General who n An excellent history of the summer of partition told through the personalities of the the key elite figures involved—in particular, Dickie Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Edwina Mountbatten. The Mountbattens were a glamorous, zany, and completely fascinating couple whose influence on Indian Independence is hard to overstate. There are so many great details (though he had his virtues, Dickie is basically a joke—he’s the naval commander who kept sinking his own ships, the Governor-General who never learned how to spell the name of the Prime Minister) and gossipy bits. I came away with strange respect for Edwina Mountbatten (who I previously knew nothing about) and renewed appreciation for Nehru (he comes out pretty well in this account).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarath Ramakrishnan

    “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, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.” Thus begins Alex Von Tunzelmann’s amusing work Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire , chronic “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, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.” Thus begins Alex Von Tunzelmann’s amusing work Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire , chronicling the final days of Indian Independence. The book’s cover shows the first Prime Minister enjoying the twinkle in the last Vicerine’s eyes, while a sharply dressed last Viceroy looks the other way. That pretty much sums up the gossip rendered via the book. Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on. As a departure from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book. She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time” Edwina, dressed for the coronation of George VI, 1937 Edwina comes across as the archetypical heroine struggling with her internal conflicts. She is temerarious, she is magnanimous in charity, a lone rebel in her high society filled with a nimiety of princoxes, she is a passionate lover. Tunzelmann sets aside a considerable portion of the book in psycho-analysing her and her relations with various men including our first Prime Minister while simultaneously showcasing how the Vicerine outshone her husband in issues related to administration and relief work. The author points out how, when Lady Mountbatten noticed that the a refugee hospital camp was devoid of lamps, she had struggled to obtain one from the brigadier in New Delhi; how she took special care to pass the Nursing Council Bill before Partition through lobbying; how her friendship with Nehru boosted her left-leaning political beliefs; how Edwina had “trudged for hours around the grim hovels in which many thousands of the city‘s poor lived” and so on. At the same time, the author, whose flair for theatrics is visible throughout the pages, gives rivetting details of Nehru and Edwina’s complex relationship. I leave here a lone paragraph so as not to play a spoil sport. “There is an intriguing tale told by S. S. Pirzada, later foreign minister of Pakistan, that Jinnah had been handed a small collection of letters that had been written by Edwina and Jawahar. ―Dickie will be out tonight—come after 10:00 o‘clock, said one of Edwina‘s. Another revealed, ―You forgot your handkerchief and before Dickie could spot it I covered it up. A third said, ―I have fond memories of Simla—riding and your touch.” The drama doesn’t end with just this curious romance, but inevitably extends to the power politics of the time. The issues of freedom and dominion formation has been explained in a more bromide, but none the less, academic manner in Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Tunzelmann has livened up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”. Interestingly, she has also included the infamous comment by Travancore Diwan C P Ramaswamy Aiyer when he had met Mountbatten, that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off young girls. As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also recorded the Mountbattens’ activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a mess wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’ Indian readers may be amused to know that the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is the nephew of Mountbatten and that he chiselled the Duke’s life into what it is now. There is also an interesting note about the later life of the Mountbatten, where a military coup by Mountbatten against the then Labour Government of Harold Wilson was stymied only because of the intervention of Queen Elizabeth, who was inturn, greatly influenced by Mountbatten during her formative years. In fact, Prince Charles considered Mountbatten like a father figure to the extent that when Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, he had written in his journal that he had lost a “combined grand-father, great uncle, father, brother and friend. Life will never be the same now that he has gone”. Winston Churchill comes across as a pervicacious blimp and rightly so. An adequate amount of space has been provided to the important role Churchill played during the 1940s. In fact, there is ineluctable evidence to show that Jinnah had an active support of Churchill and it was only through Churchill that Jinnah could have been controlled. In more than one instance, it is shown how Jinnah took the advice of Churchill and toned down his demands, thereby making things easier for the British. On the other side, Mountbatten had a profound influence on Jawaharlal Nehru, and continued to have it, many years post independence, to the extent that when Nehru passed away the British High Commission in Delhi complained ― Now that Nehru is gone we shall no longer have the enormously valuable access to the India Government‘s inner councils which Lord Mountbatten‘s personal friendship with him gave us at crucial moments. Nehru with Kennedys Nehru and the Mountbattens shared a very complex relation from what it seems. Louis Mountbatten had immense admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru as a liberal leader and in turn Nehru felt that Mountbatten was India’s true friend in Britain. In a cinematic twist, both the men were madly in love with the same woman – Edwina. In hindsight it can be said that Mountbatten’s love for her was much more intense because he allowed her to carry on the affair with Jawaharlal Nehru and actively facilitated it, by suddenly coming up with reasons to leave home for long hours especially when Nehru visited the Mountbatten residence. Nehru on the other hand, had always been able to find love in almost every corner except in his wife. The author gives an interesting anecdote about Nehru’s US visit in 1961. “Kennedy brought up a range of topics which usually interested Nehru very much—Berlin, Vietnam, nuclear testing, Indo-Pakistani relations—and yet the Indian premier seemed out of sorts and could not be induced to grunt out more than a sentence or two in reply. That evening Nehru dined with Kennedy. During the dinner, Nehru eased up considerably—not least, noted Galbraith, because he ―had sat between Mrs. Kennedy and her sister and with the light of love in his eyes. The rest of the trip went without a hitch.” But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be because they do not have personalities as colourful as Nehru and the Mountbattens; but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book. Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a decent effort, but none the less, admirable. I end this review with one of the more moving episodes of the book. At 7:30 the next morning, the Turners‘ secretary knocked on Edwina‘s door. There was no reply. She opened it to see the Countess Mountbatten of Burma lying on the bed. Her body was already cold. She had suffered heart failure a few hours before. Still one of the world‘s richest women, she had had no splendid possessions with her; only a pile of old letters on the bedside table. She must have been reading them when she died, for a few, having fluttered from her hands, were strewn across her bed. They were all from Jawaharlal Nehru. Edwina had a horror of being interred in the claustrophobic family vault at Romsey Abbey and had asked her husband to bury her ―in a sack at sea. HMS Wakeful was offered by the Admiralty and sailed from Portsmouth. The coffin was discharged into the waves from beneath a Union Jack. Mountbatten, in tears, kissed a wreath of flowers before throwing it into the sea. The Wakeful was escorted by an Indian frigate, the Trishul. Jawaharlal Nehru had sent it all the way to the English Channel, just to cast a wreath of marigolds into the waves after Edwina‘s coffin.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    On August 15, 1947, a bright new chapter opened in Indian history. After nearly a millennium of continual warfare and subjugation, the Indian spirit broke free and the nation finally awoke to freedom. This outstanding feat was achieved by ousting the British Empire, on which the sun never set. The astonishing feature of India’s freedom struggle was that it was more or less peaceful. This is hardly surprising, as the intelligentsia which led the revolt was born and brought up in a political and i On August 15, 1947, a bright new chapter opened in Indian history. After nearly a millennium of continual warfare and subjugation, the Indian spirit broke free and the nation finally awoke to freedom. This outstanding feat was achieved by ousting the British Empire, on which the sun never set. The astonishing feature of India’s freedom struggle was that it was more or less peaceful. This is hardly surprising, as the intelligentsia which led the revolt was born and brought up in a political and intellectual climate fostered by the British themselves. After the Second World War, when it became painfully evident that India can’t be ruled with the meager resources at Britain’s disposal, Clement Attlee and his Labour government decided to give away the jewel in the Empire’s crown – India – to its rightful owners. Lord Mountbatten, nicknamed Dickie, who was the supreme commander in South East Asia during the War, was assigned the onerous task of dividing the country on religious lines and transferring power to local leaders. His task was further complicated by the intricacies of India’s religious landscape and the subcontinent’s theocratic prejudices. His years in India were further brought into focus by the alleged love affair between Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Edwina, his wife. The essence of the book is the events played out in the fifteen months from March 1947, when the couple set foot in India as the Viceroy and Vicereine, and June 1948, when power was handed over and they returned home jobless. This core narrative is preceded by a long buildup of incidents that led to 1947, and succeeded by descriptions of the main actors’ lives thereafter till their death. Alex von Tunzelmann is a historian and author, and this is her first book. The funniest part of it all was that I had taken the author to be a male from the name and only learned the true fact much later. This required some last minute changes in the review! Part 1 of the book sets the stage for opening the final act in India’s independence, with the Mountbattens’ leaving England in style. In this section that spans more than a third of the book, the social and private lives of the main characters are analyzed in nitpicking detail – especially when it tends to be controversial. The author puts Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi under the scanner. Of these, the Father of the Nation gets the most reprobation. Gandhi’s political life was an extension of his personal one, or rather; they melded seamlessly so that no one could say for sure where one ended or where the other began. The tactics employed by him in the struggle for freedom from the British included civil disobedience, passive resistance, logical argument, nonviolence in the face of violence and emotional blackmail. Gandhi has admitted that he learned these traits from his wife Kasturba, in her deft dealing with Gandhi’s mother and her own mother-in-law. Gandhi’s handling of his sons left much to be desired in discharging parental duty. His experiments in testing sexual abstinence with his female acolytes were notorious. Tunzelmann tells of an incident in which a police team that searched the ashram in the middle of the night found Gandhi in the company of an eighteen-year old girl. This incident was soon hushed up. His impractical proposals on how the newly independent India should be moulded provoked cries of reprehension from all concerned parties. The author has painted most of her major actors in a not so flattering light. Royalty and their associates like Mountbatten get a severe drubbing. Lackluster performance in education and naval service had made Mountbatten a pampered, but inefficient commander. Even the Prince of Wales is not spared the author’s sharp rebuke though the author had acknowledged with thanks the permission granted by the Queen to access the Royal Archives at Windsor. Tunzelmann trounces two arguments commonly used by nationalist elements in Indian society, that the presence of Gandhi reined in communalist elements in Indian politics and that Britain left India with extreme reluctance and immense pressure from Congress’ struggles. The author asserts that while Jinnah’s ascendancy coincided with the rise of political Islam, Gandhi’s spiritually inspired programmes gave confidence to religious chauvinists to take part openly in Congress politics. Fundamentalist Hindus were a rare presence before the coming of Gandhi on the scene. However, this argument contradicts with another of the author that Gandhi reached the zenith of his career during the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and thereafter entered a descent to near irrelevance by 1947. His fanciful proposals first on how to avoid partition of the country and then on how to do it were rejected out of hand by the Congress, who were becoming more and more embarrassed by the Mahatma’s utterances. Gandhi rose to prominence again only in August 1947, when his moral authority could prevent communal violence breaking out in Calcutta by staging a fast unto death. While thousands of armed soldiers miserably failed to curb the fratricidal bloodbath in partitioned Punjab, a weak and unarmed man could ensure calmness in partitioned Bengal was nothing short of a miracle. A few months later, he did it again in Delhi, where the communal frenzy abated by his presence and another fast. Gandhi’s fast would force the Indian government’s hand to release payments due for Pakistan on account of partition of assets, but kept frozen on account of its support to assailants in Kashmir. These two incidents catapulted the Mahatma to the most ‘powerful’ position in India, though the irony of the word as applied to the prophet of nonviolence is glaring. Besides, he was gunned by a fundamentalist Hindu. So what is the logic in correlating Gandhi’s career with communalization of politics? The book presents the grievous atmosphere in UK after the Second World War. Pyrrhic victory is only a mild term for the tremendous cost it had to pay in terms of human lives and material to crush the Axis powers into a pit even more terrible than they found themselves in. Isn’t it sheer madness for two prosperous nations to pick a quarrel up between them, then try to sort it out using violence on a scale not witnessed heretofore, and then ending up as paupers solely dependent on the handouts from a third power, the USA, in this instance? Devoid of resources and power, Britain was anxious to leave India for good. Tunzelmann writes that hundreds of thousands were dead, millions expended, normal industries battered, towns destroyed, families broken up and stuck back together and food supplies restricted to the minimum with strict rationing in England. This contrasts markedly with the boastful claims of a few overly patriotic fellow Indians that we had kicked the British out! Though the book is fundamentally about the indefinable relationship between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, it effectively answers the question whether retaining Mountbatten as the Governor General of free India was a wise decision for the new nation to take. It is heartless and unfounded on facts to argue that he was appointed on the express desire of Nehru on account of the illicit relationship India’s first prime minister was running with the governor general’s wife! The book mentions a decisive episode in the finalization of the Punjab boundary. Gurdaspur district had a Muslim majority, but if it was to be given to Pakistan, Amritsar would’ve been mostly surrounded by Pakistani territory and India’s only route to Kashmir would’ve been cut off. Even though Cyril Radcliffe took a decision based only on population, it was said to be amended under pressure from Mountbatten. Eventually, Gurdaspur stayed a part of India, thereby facilitating quick movement of troops and material to Kashmir, when insurgents swooped on it two months later. Indians should not lose sight of this great service. Besides, Edwina made a commendable effort to mobilizing material for refugee camps and to make its administration more efficient and refugee-friendly, on account of her close relationship with the nation’s prime minister. It is curious to note that the ends of the four major figures shared something in common. Gandhi was assassinated, Nehru and Edwina died of heart attacks and Mountbatten was killed in an IRA terrorist attack that detonated a bomb in the boat he was sailing in. On the whole, the book is rather gossipy in style. Of course, the facts are there in full, and the author had done extensive research to compile the diverse material into an immensely readable homogeneity; yet, she has not omitted anything which one would utter only in a hushed tone in respectable company. If it can be said without prejudice or sexist bias, the book looks a bit too feminine to general readers! It is, however, very pleasing to read. There is a lengthy section of Notes and a commendable Index. A set of monochrome plates adds variety to the narrative. The book is highly recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sabahat

    Alex Von Tunzelman knows how to write narrative history that’s rigorously researched and detailed but with enough editorial skill so as not to overwhelm the non-specialist reader. From what I’d heard about the book prior to reading it I expected more sensationalism than I actually found. The Nehru-Edwina-Mountbatten affair is dwelt on in detail but this detail is gleaned from historical records, making it difficult to find anything sexually scandalous in it. The fact that the Mountbattens were a Alex Von Tunzelman knows how to write narrative history that’s rigorously researched and detailed but with enough editorial skill so as not to overwhelm the non-specialist reader. From what I’d heard about the book prior to reading it I expected more sensationalism than I actually found. The Nehru-Edwina-Mountbatten affair is dwelt on in detail but this detail is gleaned from historical records, making it difficult to find anything sexually scandalous in it. The fact that the Mountbattens were as close as they were to the leader of the Indian National Congress and then the Prime Minister of India is enough of a political scandal, though. As described by Tunzelman these relationships take on the tenor of a great love story forged by deep emotional bonds, even spirituality. But the ‘love story’ part is the last quarter of the book. Most of it is about how independence and the partition of India came about, Mountbatten’s life, his connections to the current royal family of England, Gandhi. It’s a paean to Nehru and Edwina separately as individuals. And for the Pakistani reader an occasional insight into Jinnah (who largely comes off well). The Kashmir chapter was deeply enlightening for me. I underlined considerable bits and hope to go back to those again and again.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shakir Husain

    This was a fantastic book - incredibly well researched and reads like a novel. Highly recommended to anyone interested in subcontinental history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shalin Bhatt

    This book is as good as a historical non-fiction can get. Backed with credible research, Alex von Tunzelmann's narrative describes the Indian independence movement from the vantage points of its 5 key characters - Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Lord and Lady Mountbatten. How the personal lives and dynamics of these five people intertwined with the politics of the day to impact the sustained fate of 400 million people on the planet makes for a compelling read. If you're looking for a non fiction page turn This book is as good as a historical non-fiction can get. Backed with credible research, Alex von Tunzelmann's narrative describes the Indian independence movement from the vantage points of its 5 key characters - Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Lord and Lady Mountbatten. How the personal lives and dynamics of these five people intertwined with the politics of the day to impact the sustained fate of 400 million people on the planet makes for a compelling read. If you're looking for a non fiction page turner, look no further.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Himanshu Modi

    Man... why is history not taught like this? Sure, leave out the lurid bits. The rest of it could have been in history books. Oh yeah... then all our politico leaders would have been human beings, and not Bahubali's they all seem to be. That, if anything, is the biggest takeaway from the book. In the current political climate, it is anyways fashionable to be either anti-Nehru and anti-Gandhi. Or if you are that, you by default also support fascism and dictatorships. What such polarizing opinions co Man... why is history not taught like this? Sure, leave out the lurid bits. The rest of it could have been in history books. Oh yeah... then all our politico leaders would have been human beings, and not Bahubali's they all seem to be. That, if anything, is the biggest takeaway from the book. In the current political climate, it is anyways fashionable to be either anti-Nehru and anti-Gandhi. Or if you are that, you by default also support fascism and dictatorships. What such polarizing opinions completely miss is that the Independence struggle was not about individuals or parties lobbying for power. Nehru's or Gandhi's or Patel's or Bose's maneuvering was not a game of one-upmanship. They all wanted Swaraj. It was in the details where they differed from each other. No one wanted violence or millions of people dead. But then Britishers did not care, and Indian leaders could never imagine the scale at which violence would be unleashed. The story-format of this history also helps in reminding us readers how much in life is a series of one-thing-led-to-another. History books, with it's dry chronological record, often lose sight of the chain of events that lead to watershed moments in history. These history books, therefore, simply don't move and galvanize the reader the way a story can. Jallianwala Bagh, a event we all agree was horrific, has never turned me cold to my bones the way hearing about it in this book did. That, is the power of stories. Besides the history lessons, the very human portrayals of two key players of Indian independence movement - Nehru and Gandhi - was very satisfying to read. Gandhi, with his world altering philosophies must have been infuriating to deal with. And he was undeniably astute. His thinking on the declaration of non-violence by Jinnah was fiendish. And that was just one example. The true secrets that the people who worked closely with gandhi must have known... Nehru, on the other hand - the book is not an exposition on his heroic exploits the way our history books were - but I hope it does serve to temper the anti-Nehru sentiments a lot of people fester. Let's all agree - he was against fascism, and he wanted a secular India. Nehru's first position was a united India. Once Jinnah and Britishers employed divide-and-rule in full force, and a united India became untenable, a secular India was the way to go. I don't agree that Patel's hard-lined Hindu-only-state was ever going to be workable. Iron-man Patel's contribution in uniting India is expressly mentioned in the book. The Statue of Unity is a fitting tribute to him. But he does come across as rather dictatorial. Sure, a bit of that iron hand was required at that time, but the line of benevolent dictatorial leadership is hard to toe. It's only a step away from full blown fascism. We should all remember that too. I might be at the risk of being labled Congressi - of course... political climate and all. Still, I do wish the book covered a bit more of Patel. I will go elsewhere for that itch. What I did get, a bit unexpectedly, was far too much of Mountbattens. I found that amusing for most parts. They led rather colorful lives. If I had known the book gave as many pages to Dickie and Edwena as it did... I might have been dissuaded from picking up the book. So I am glad I didn't know that going in. For one, heir story is entertaining. And it ties back nicely to the British royalty and the true antagonist of the tale - Churchill. The exploration of Nehru-Edwena-Dickie triangle... was very, very sensitively handled. It's a very compelling love-triangle. Seriously, Yash Chopra does not even hold a candle to von Tunzelmann as far as depicting romantic complications go. Did I want this much footage given to the topic? No. Am I complaining. Again, no. It was infact rather good, to see this side of Nehru and Mountbattens. In popular passtime of demonizing national figureheads - it's common to snigger about Nehru's affair with Edwena. But to understand that these giants of history had their own passions and affections intertwined with the fate of nations... I am glad that I don't have to deal. The bit about Edwena deciding not to stay back after Dickie had to go back to UK after his term as governor general... that's some decision to make! I never thought I'd say this, but I daresay it was a moving love story. See, I am no expert on Indian history so I have not vetted the accuracy of the anecdotes and details here. But as it stands, the history is very balanced and there are no elements of needless dramatizing. When a history book comes across as not having an agenda, there's little reason to perpetrate lies. And a balanced history book which is as entertaining as this was... I need more of them.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    An intricate, intimate and brilliantly nuanced portrait of the final days of the Raj. Not to be confused with the BBC series of the same name ;)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    Inglorious Exit "Poor, accident-prone Dickie [Mountbatten], long known in the Admiralty as the ‘Master of Disaster,’ had been given more power over 400 million subjects of the British king-emperor than any preceding viceroy. The task of reconciling the Indian politicians, reestablishing public order, and finding a formula for an independent India was awesome, and quite beyond Mountbatten’s experience. India would have been within its rights to panic, but from the British government’s point of vie Inglorious Exit "Poor, accident-prone Dickie [Mountbatten], long known in the Admiralty as the ‘Master of Disaster,’ had been given more power over 400 million subjects of the British king-emperor than any preceding viceroy. The task of reconciling the Indian politicians, reestablishing public order, and finding a formula for an independent India was awesome, and quite beyond Mountbatten’s experience. India would have been within its rights to panic, but from the British government’s point of view, Dickie’s appointment had been a clever move. He was a gung-ho sort and could be relied upon to remove himself, and his nation, by any means necessary. And, by this stage, the British government did not care much which means were necessary. The end was its only concern.” Alex von Tunzelmann's lively account of the end of the British raj pulls no punches, as the above paragraph demonstrates. The author deftly juggles the lives of Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Nehru, Gandhi, and Jinnah, against a broad historical canvas. While more detailed (and less witty) accounts may provide more authoritative histories, I doubt there are few as entertaining or insightful. This is history written from the top, gazing fixedly at the personalities and actions of the central players in a distinctly non-Tolstoyan manner. Particularly interesting are the insights into the personal foibles of those that popular history has cast into largely heroic molds -- not only the aforementioned Lord Mountbatten, but Churchill and Gandhi as well. The latter appears much less saintly than commonly assumed, even deluded at times. For example, at the outset of World War II, Gandhi urges the British to give up the fight against Hitler and Mussolini: "Let them take possession of your beautiful island… allow yourself, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to vow allegiance to them." He gives similar advice to the Jews, whom he urges to sacrifice themselves in a heroic act of passive resistance. Equally intriguing was her assessment of the difference between Nehru and the Mahatma: "Nehru saw social and economic hardship as a cause of suffering, and therefore wanted to end it; Gandhi saw hardship as noble and righteous, and therefore wanted to spread the blessings of poverty and humiliation to all people.” The book is at its best, though, when it focuses on the complicated if not downright tortuous relationship of Edwina and Dickie Mountbatten, which, after Mountbatten became viceroy of India, gave way to a ménage à trois of the Mountbattens and Jawaharlal Nehru. The long affair between Nehru and Edwina makes a compelling tale, and cast against the backdrop of the horrors of partition is even more affecting. One unresolved peculiarity of the book, for me, was what seemed an ambivalent view of Mountbatten. The author seems to be at pains to present him at his most pompous and ridiculous at first, detailing his mishaps as a naval commander and his penchant for social climbing. Then she suddenly makes a volte-face and stoutly defends his actions as a viceroy, opining that "Mountbatten was serving his country with as much loyalty, courage, and determination as had… other heroes. Mountbatten turned a stagnating mess into perhaps the most successful retreat from empire in history – from the point of view of the imperialist nation, at least.” However, at the end of the book, I felt I not only had a finer grasp of a complex historical juncture but also more insight into the men (and women) at the helm of events. I also better understand how these events are still playing out in India and Pakistan today, particularly in regards to Kashmir. I look forward to reading more by this author.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Abhineet

    ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION: The secret origin of Modern Indian History In this book, the author tries to perfectly define “How some of the major political events in the history of modern India have their roots based on some of the simplest things in life”. The author discusses how Gandhi’s act of passive resistance was inspired from his wife (Civil Disobedience) or how a narrow, near-death escape of a person named Gangadhar (Nehru’s Grandfather) in the 1857 revolt will heavily influence the next 90 ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION: The secret origin of Modern Indian History In this book, the author tries to perfectly define “How some of the major political events in the history of modern India have their roots based on some of the simplest things in life”. The author discusses how Gandhi’s act of passive resistance was inspired from his wife (Civil Disobedience) or how a narrow, near-death escape of a person named Gangadhar (Nehru’s Grandfather) in the 1857 revolt will heavily influence the next 90 years of Indian history. The first few chapters deal with the origin story of namely four influential people (Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, and Mountbatten). The book not only deals with their personal history but also showcases how each of the above-mentioned personalities developed their distinguishing political traits. Once the introductory phase is complete, what follows is a series of the team-ups and faceoff. This also happens to be the definitive moment in the book where all the characters with their signature characteristics meet (in both friendly and hostile manner). Thus begins a tale of “The fate of 40 million natives getting decided by representatives with clashing personalities”. Apart from dealing with the personal secret history of the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque, Fatima Jinnah; Padmaja Naidu, first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who most certainly qualifies as the protagonist of this book. I particularly liked the way the author made references to future events, which were relevant within the context of the current timeline she is talking about, thus leaving behind a little teaser of what follows. Apart from all the ups and downs, the one thing that remained common was her sense of humour. As a writer, she has been extremely witty with her observations and as a historian, she has left no stone unturned. Hence the title “The Secret history of the end of an empire”.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Philippa St

    I was surprised to read on the first page of Indian Summer that the British Empire in India 'fell proudly and majestically on its own sword.' The author claims it was not forced out of India. Well, that depends on your definition of 'forced out', I suppose. The Indian Independence movement had been growing for over 60 years by 1947, the British Raj looking increasingly shaky. So I was immediately suspicious of the perspective of this 'history' book. It is readable but I disliked the emphasis on I was surprised to read on the first page of Indian Summer that the British Empire in India 'fell proudly and majestically on its own sword.' The author claims it was not forced out of India. Well, that depends on your definition of 'forced out', I suppose. The Indian Independence movement had been growing for over 60 years by 1947, the British Raj looking increasingly shaky. So I was immediately suspicious of the perspective of this 'history' book. It is readable but I disliked the emphasis on the Mountbattens, Gandhi and Nehru as the prime movers in the transfer of power in 1947. The 'great man' theory of history is surely rather outdated and discredited these days? Nor was the British withdrawal from India the 'end of the empire.' India was indeed the jewel in the imperial crown but Britain still held quite a few colonies in 1947 and for several decades afterwards. So not impressed by the reliability and the impartiality of this 'history'.

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