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Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire UK ed. Edition, Kindle Edition
INDIAN SUMMERdepicts the epic sweep of events that ripped apart the greatest empire the world has ever seen, and reveals the secrets of the most powerful players on the world stage: the Cold War conspiracies, the private deals, and the intense and clandestine love affair between the wife of the last viceroy and the first prime minister of free India. With wit, insight and a sharp eye for detail, Alex von Tunzelmann relates how a handful of people changed the world for ever.
"Indian Summer is a true tour de force: absorbing in its detail and masterly in the broad sweep of its canvas."—Sir Martin Gilbert, author of The Somme
"Indian Summer is outstandingly vivid and authoritative. Alex von Tunzelmann brings a lively new voice to narrative history-writing."—Victoria Glendinning, author of Leonard Woolf
"Alex von Tunzelmann is a wonderful historian, as learned as she is shrewd. But she is also something more unexpected: a writer with a wit and an eye for character that Evelyn Waugh would surely have admired."—Tom Holland, author of Rubicon and Persian Fire
"An engaging, controversial, very lively and, at times, refreshingly irreverent tour de force. Alex von Tunzelmann has written a dramatic story, laced with tragedy and farce, and done so very well; a remarkable debut."—Lawrence James, author of The Middle Class: A History and Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India
“This is history as multiple, interconnected biography . . . a book more concerned with the smaller, more colorful threads of individual character than with the broader tapestry of history and retrospective judgment. . . . Indian Summer achieves something both simpler and rarer, placing the behavior and feelings of a few key players at the center of a tumultuous moment in history.”—New York Times Book Review
“A fascinating book that may well change how we look on the benighted world in which we live today.”—Los Angeles Times
“In ‘Indian Summer’, Alex von Tunzelmann pays particular attention to how negotiations were shaped by an interplay of personalities. . . . her account, unlike those of some of her fellow British historians, isn’t filtered by nostalgia.”—The New Yorker--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- ASIN : B008QYIAWW
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK; UK ed. edition (25 October 2012)
- Language : English
- File size : 2576 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 496 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,885 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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This is the how the young historian Alex von Tunzelmann begins the first chapter of her first book, “Indian Summer”. This book contains 464 pages including notes, bibliography, glossary and index. The main text is divided into four sections, titled “Empire”, “The End”, “The Beginning” and “Afterwards”.
Note that “The Beginning” comes after “The End” – and read on for more surprises!
The first section presents an overview of Indian history from the first English envoy reaching the court of Akbar the Great in 1577 to the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the Viceroy of India in March 1947. It is not easy to compress 370 years into 146 pages, especially when author provides a wealth of biographical detail, such as –
“Motilal Nehru was a colossus, of broad shoulder and imposing countenance. It was often remarked that, in profile, he resembled a Roman emperor.”
“Whatever his moral eccentricities and political failures, Gandhi’s charm and charisma ensured that he remained popular both within Congress and the nation at large. The millions of admirers he attracted from among the general public greeted him not as a politician, but as a spiritual guru.”
“And the most pig-headed of all British politicians when it came to India was Winston Churchill...”
“…Jinnah was no fundamentalist. His Islam was liberal, moderate and tolerant. It was said that he could recite none of the Koran, rarely went to a mosque, and spoke little Urdu.”
There is a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson on the cover of this book, which shows Nehru enjoying a joke with Edwina Mountbatten - while her husband looks straight into the camera with an impassive expression. Despite the subtitle “The Secret History of the End of an Empire”, the book does not expose any state secrets – instead, it mostly presents interconnected biographies of the key players indicated by the cover picture.
The second section focuses on the four-month period from the arrival of the Mountbattens in India in March 1947 to the historic independence and the tragic partition in mid-August. The third section describes the early history of independent India (justifying the “Beginning” coming after the “End” of the British Raj). These two sections, which present much of the painstaking research carried out by the author, constitute the core of the book.
“While Edwina began to find her footing,” a week after their arrival in India, “Dickie rapidly lost his.” The author praises Lady Mountbatten for “crouching down to talk face to face with refugee women, establishing an informality that was a departure from the style of previous vicereines.” She charmed Mahatma Gandhi and visited him frequently, saying that he was the most wonderful man she had ever met. Eventually, “Edwina coordinated fifteen separate relief organizations, two government ministries and one Mahatma into a single targeted team with clear instructions and purpose.”
As for “Dickie” Mountbatten, we had already learnt about his “great gift for storytelling, unspoilt by any preoccupation with the truth” and “infatuation with orders and rank”. We had also been told about his royal ancestry, his unconventional marriage and the blunders of his naval career. Now we learn that “Mountbatten’s initial meeting with Gandhi had been bad. His meetings with Jinnah would be worse.” Yet, the author strongly defends Mountbatten’s numerous failures in India – including mishandling of the Sikhs, lack of British Army support and the speed of the transfer of power – resulting in mass migrations and the death of lakhs of people consequent to the partition. She also highlights Mountbatten’s supportive role in Sardar Patel’s mission of integration of princely states into India.
There are many references to the close friendship between Pandit Nehru and Lady Mountbatten. “They were known to be close, and they were known to have political influence with each other.” They spent much time together and she was able to persuade him that India should become a Dominion until the new Constitution came into force. However, when it comes to “the rumours of a roaring love affair”, the author admits that she was not given access to the letters they had written to each other – and she wisely refrains from coming to any scandalous conclusions!
This book contains a small, but select collection of photographs – including one discovered by the author, in which Nehru is clutching Edwina’s hand while they are walking away from a seemingly hostile crowd in a refugee camp. It seems remarkable that the Prime Minister and the wife of the Governor General visited such crowded places with so little security in those days.
While the narration is smooth, the author adopts a rather jarring style of referring to many people in the book by their informal names – so Nehru’s sisters Vijaya Lakshmi (Pandit) and Krishna (Hutheesing) appear as “Nan” and “Betty” respectively. Similarly, Louis Mountbatten’s name is abbreviated as “DM” instead of “LM”.
There is a short glossary explaining terms which might be unfamiliar to readers outside India, but this needs much improvement. For instance, it defines “kurta” as “a long shirt worn over trousers” while unnecessarily adding “The women’s version is the kurti”! In fact, kurti has various shades of meaning – it can be a short kurta worn by either gender, a feminine blouse or a soldier’s tunic (archaic).
Despite such shortcomings, this is a monumental work, comparable to “Freedom at Midnight” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. It is hard to believe that this is von Tunzelmann’s first book, published when she was just thirty. It is even more difficult to believe – as the author confesses in the Introduction she added in the 2017 edition – that she had not visited India till she began writing this book.
Ms Tunzelman has written an interesting book largely around the portrait and the life of the Mountbattens and the Nehru. She has dealt with other principal characters such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Churchill, Atlee, etc and reasons for events such as the Round Table Conference, non co-operation movement, Cabinet Mission, etc and the considerations around the decisions taken.
It is an engaging book and is easy to read. It throws up a very interesting perspective e.g., Gandhi had peaked by 1930, Quit Indian movement was ill advised and a failure, Congress rejecting the Cabinet Mission set the stage for partition, etc. Interesting is the author's perspective on the considerations of the British e.g., appointment of Simon Commission was a reaction to Japanese taking over Singapore. These go against the popular narrative in India, which gives all the credit to pressure from Congress and leadership of Nehru and Gandhi. Views like this is what brings the book to life.
She is scathing in her criticism of icons like Churchill (his Hitler like behavior in being a party to the death of millions of Bengali peasants or supporting Muslim fundamentalism) and Gandhi (his psychologically violent behaviour vis-a-vis his sons and his wife and his comments on the Nazis and the Holocaust). One very interesting comment was idea of making Indira Gandhi the external affairs minister in the Nehru cabinet.
Focus on Nehru and Mountbatten is both a strength and a weakness of the book. They were the key protagnists in 1947 and understanding their personalities explains why certain decisions were taken. However, Indian independence and partition is a more complicated subject and the others may have impacted independence struggle e.g., Bose in eroding the confidence of the British in holding onto India. Some of the questions remain unanswered e.g., one one hand Congress said that it represented all Indians, yet it could never win majorities in Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab.
Overall it was a fun book to read and I learnt something more about the events. I recommend the book.
The book focuses on 4 main characters:Mountbatten including Edwina,Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah.
It is about Indian History but reads like a novel!!
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on 26 July 2022
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There are many books about Indian Independence, quite a few of which I have read, but AvT injects new life into the subject, by taking a different approach from the norm; instead of following the timeline of events and processes, she tells the story through the biographies of the main players, focussing on Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Edwina Mountbatten and Louis Mountbatten, but also covering many of the lesser actors.
Gandhi, a difficult character, conducted his life and all his affairs with levels of principles, ethics and spirituality that others could not aspire to. He was rigid and uncompromising and, in his inflexibility, he is likened to Lenin or Trotsky; it may have been better if he had leaned more towards Marx, who once famously said: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.” [Groucho that is, not Karl]. The author establishes that, with a bit of compromise and flexibility, he may well have been able to achieve more, far sooner and at less cost in terms of human suffering.
Jinnah, another difficult, inflexible and uncompromising character; whilst not a devout Muslim (he was light on religious attendance, certainly liked his whisky and is rumoured to have been partial to a ham sandwich or two, although AvT could find no solid proof of the last), was committed to the protection of the rights and security of Indian Muslims, hence his insistence on a separate, Muslim state, when he could not obtain an acceptable deal on the position of Muslims in a single, unified, post-independence India.
He is reported, when near death, to have told one of his close colleagues that "....Pakistan was ‘the biggest blunder of my life’.", so maybe another who, with a bit of compromise and flexibility, could well have been able to achieve more, far sooner and at less cost in terms of human suffering.
The two characters who come out of this with real credit are EM and Nehru.
The former threw herself into doing all she could to help and protect people, with a punishing programme of visits to hospitals and displaced persons camps then pressuring the authorities into providing desperately needed supplies and improving conditions.
The latter, as an atheist, a socialist and a pragmatist, was not bound by any religious dogma and, whilst committed to the final goal, was willing to compromise in order to cause minimum pain and suffering to the people.
During the First World War, the head of the British wing of the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, George V, decided that it would be a good idea to hide the German heritage of the Royal Family and changed its name to the House of Windsor. At the same time, he changed the titles and positions of minor royals, with Prince Louis of Battenberg, LM’s father, being defenestrated and becoming Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven (about as far west from London as he could get, other than being given Rockall); LM’s life mission was to get the Battenbergs reinstalled to what he saw as their rightful place the top of the royalty tree.
He accomplished the first phase of this when he had a hand in getting his cousin, Philip, introduced to and married to the future Queen of England; as AvT states: “When King George VI died in 1952, Elizabeth became Queen. Quick off the mark as ever, [LM] held a dinner party at Broadlands only days after his cousin’s death. He called for champagne, to celebrate the fact that the ‘House of Mountbatten’ now reigned.”
The next phase was to mould Charles Windsor, his “honorary grandson” and potential future King, in his own image. LM was a bumbler and dabbler; disengaged from everyday reality; short of concentration when it came to big, complex issues; full of petulance, privilege and entitlement; obsessed with formality and fancy uniforms; believing he had a right to interfere in government (particularly via his green letters) – looks like he did a pretty good job of it, except Chas uses “black spider memos” instead of green letters. The most worrying part is that LM was alleged to have been involved in discussions, not just once but twice, about staging coups to overthrow Harold Wilson governments and install LM as unelected head of government – could make for interesting times if we ever have King Chas v PM Jezza.
There are not too many surprises here but the perspective and the style (engaging, enthralling, easily accessible, easily digestible) make for top quality history writing – a page turner for me.
Incredibly well researched and convincingly written, this book deserves every success and is a vivid portrait of the events of 1947 and for many readers, myself included, born long after 1947 who have no little or know personal knowledge of the subject this book serves as reference point on a chapter of our history. Even if you think you have some knowledge of these events this book will open you mind the real truth of the incompetence of the end of British rule.
The 3 episodes that seem to interest the author are a) The war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir that contimues tto this day b) the incorporation of Hyderabad into India and c) the relationship between the Mountbattens (particularly Edwina) and Nheru.
Well written and researched with good black and white picttures.
An important insight into India/UK relations after independence