A considerable and captivating book, and of course fortuitously timed: after Attenborough's reverential Gandhi, what better...

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INDIA BRITANNICA

A considerable and captivating book, and of course fortuitously timed: after Attenborough's reverential Gandhi, what better tonic than Moorhouse's spirited story of ""a complicated love-hate relationship."" There are pictures to feast on too (it's a slightly oversize volume, on glossy stock)--misty views by English watercolorists, Indian miniatures of sahibs and memsahibs, a delicate sketch of ""Thugs Strangling a Traveller,"" early and late photographs (lastly, cows grazing among Imperial gravestones). The text is equally heterodox--but not a motley: Moorhouse, portraitist of Calcutta (1972) and working-class son of Empire (the family sympathized with Mr. Gandhi, young Geoffrey was infatuated with the North West Frontier), brings purpose as well as flair to the enterprise, and draws upon the best recent scholarship as well as his own impressions. East India Company panoply is duly noted--""not quite as gorgeous as anything the Mughals and the Hindu princes could provide, but trying hard to compete""--along with ""the biggest hazard that faced the British in India, which was to their health."" The Nabobs sail home to England with their plunder (""profits of twenty five percent were regarded as a sign of the moderate man""); the Orientalists fight for Indians to be educated in their own languages (a worthwhile reminder, after Edward Said)--and lose out to the Anglicizers, Macaulay adjudicating. The youths taught Western ideas then agitate for independence. . . . Moorhouse opens his final, post-departure chapter with Eleanor Roosevelt's bewilderment that Americans were now less popular than the British--but he doesn't duck the question of why, in two centuries of rule (""behaving in turns abominably and decently toward the Indians""), they didn't do more. The staples of British India history are here too--from the (misnamed) Black Hole through Kipling and the Mutiny to Congress and Gandhi. There's also a great deal, though, of more-than-mere-color: vivid life.

Pub Date: June 1, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983