INDIAN SUMMER by Alex von Tunzelmann


The Secret History of the End of an Empire
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Tepid account of the end of the Raj, though with a little imperialist-colonialist hanky-panky thrown in for good measure.

It is small news that Britain ceded its empire willingly, forgetting about little exceptions such as the U.S. and Malaysia. When it gave up India at midnight on August 14, 1947, the civil strife that led to the partition of India and Pakistan ensued almost instantly. The architect of empire’s end—and, at least in part, of that partition—was the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, “Dickie” to his friends, who, British historian von Tunzelmann writes, had a jape two minutes before his tenure ran out by “creating the Australian wife of the Nawab of Palanpur a highness, in defiance of Indian caste customs and British policy.” Hardly an example of enlightened rule, one might think, but Dickie had a thoroughly modern attitude otherwise, even encouraging his wife Edwina to enjoy a ménage-a-trois with none other than Jawaharlal Nehru, on the way to becoming the father of his country. Edwina was the chief beneficiary of the arrangement; writes von Tunzelmann, “With Dickie, she was in an affectionate, sexless companionship; with Jawahar, she had found something more profound and more passionate.” All well and good, and even though Edwina would later threaten divorce and took off by herself for India annually once the couple had returned to England, Dickie was at ease, continuing a long correspondence with Nehru on such things as the status of Kashmir and the political makeup of Nehru’s new cabinet—the dry and boring stuff of history, in other words. Von Tunzelmann too frequently strives for effect (“Bose emerged from the foam off the coast of Singapore, a fascist Aphrodite spewed up from the deep”), and the Mountbattens’ unusual accommodation too often threatens to overshadow the real story, which is that of Indian independence.

That story is better told elsewhere, most recently Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi (2007).

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8073-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2007


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