The story of one of the giants of 20th-century history, here given an added psychoanalytic twist. Jawaharlal Nehru...


NEHRU: A Tryst with Destiny

The story of one of the giants of 20th-century history, here given an added psychoanalytic twist. Jawaharlal Nehru (1890-1964) belongs, with Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Mao, on a list of the primary shapers of mid-20th-century history. The outlines of his heroic public life, as one of the leaders of India's long battle for independence and as the new nation's highly visible prime minister, are well known. Fascinated with the riddles of his inner life, Wolpert (History/UCLA) adds to our knowledge of Nehru's personality. His judicious psychoanalytic commentary on Nehru's relationship with his father, Motilal Nehru, and with Mahatma Gandhi portrays an ongoing triangle of political intrigue, emotional competition, and mutual frustration. Wolpert deploys psychological theories with a light touch and sustains his points with lengthy quotations from Nehru's own writings. But his approach seems to fail him when dealing with Nehru's complex relationships with women. The leader's wife and mother remain shadowy, unhappy figures, obviously important but apparently without a point of view. Wolpert clearly delineates a woman's outlook only when he focuses on Nehru's daughter Indira, the future prime minister. He stresses the formative influences of Nehru's education at Harrow (a prestigious English private school) and Cambridge. Nehru brought home from England a sense of the inevitable triumph of some vague form of state socialism and a secularist dismissal of the importance of religion in modern history. His secularism and faith in government planning served him well in his roles as agitator and nation builder. But Nehru's failure to deal with religious rivalries contributed to the violent creation of Pakistan, and his stubborn belief in central government planning now seems simplistic. Striking a wise balance between sophistication and deference to the reader's need for explanations, Wolpert illuminates the aspirations and fears behind Nehru's compulsive drive toward power in India and influence in the wider world.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996


Page Count: 592

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996