Strangers with Gandhi

Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, an analytical biography of Mahatma Gandhi, is a bit like wandering into the middle of a conversation. Rather than working in chronological order, Lelyveld instead meanders—the Boer War, then Tolstoy, then Winston Churchill—the same way he might discuss the weather or baseball. Just to keep up, it is helpful to know something about them, as well as something about Gandhi himself. But along the way, Lelyveld’s extensive research reveals surprising sides of Gandhi—details that have gotten Great Soul banned in certain parts of India. The most controversial are Gandhi’s long bromantic relationship with a male German architect, his strained relationship with his wife and sons, and his seeming indifference to Africans during 22 years in South Africa. All of this is up for debate, but Lelyveld—to his credit—has worked hard to help us see the human soul behind the “Great Soul.”