Sonia Gandhi’s life story is the stuff of novels. Growing up in an Italian working class village, she met her Rajiv Gandhiwhilst learning English at college in Cambridge, and after a long distance relationship, married into the Gandhi family and its political life.
After her mother-in-law Indira’s assassination in 1984 and her husband’s death in 1991, when he was killed by a female suicide bomber in an attack that left only his shoes remaining, Sonia Gandhi has steadfastly and stoically taken the responsibility of India’s political progression as her own. As leader of the Congress Party, she rules over a billion people, ‘holding sway over one sixth of humanity.’
The plot is captivating, but the style of writing at times lets it down. Liberally scattered quotes from acquaintances, family, allies and enemies are taken from secondary sources, and as such is sometimes lacking in vivacity.
What Singh does very well is collate, weaving the comments and opinions together, merging the political and personal, and layering up interviews and testimonies, with the intention of portraying Sonia Gandhi as a real woman with fancies and flaws as well as the leader of the world’s largest democracy.
There are tender moments, especially in the earlier pages when we read about the young woman’s first steps into love and politics, as well as straightforward historical recording, textbook-style.
Singh clearly admires Sonia Gandhi as a powerful woman, but the politically correct and venerating tone is at times cloying. Singh describes the writing of this book as ‘the toughest challenge of my career.’
She has clearly approached the research process with vigour, but apparently without being selective about the information and evidence included. Overall the feeling is one of reading through a log of evidence, all biased towards one outcome.
By the end of the book I want to read more – but mainly because I feel that Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny doesn’t answer all my questions. And perhaps no book will until Sonia Gandhi chooses to speak for herself.
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