A London journalist presents a biography of one of the world’s enigmatic female leaders.
Beginning with the 1991 assassination of Sonia’s husband, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Singh traces back to Sonia’s girlhood, her English education and her eventual marriage, emphasizing the charged atmosphere in mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s household. The author then discusses the death of Rajiv’s brother, Sanjay, and Indira’s assassination by her own bodyguards, circling back to Rajiv’s term in office, his death and beyond. Singh portrays Sonia not as a strategist aiming for power, nor as a widow pushed onto the stage by tragedy, but as a family-oriented woman inspired by her adopted country. She did not accept the position of president until several years afterward; how reluctance transformed into the will to preserve a legacy comprises much of the second half of the book. Though Singh provides few quotes from Sonia herself, readers will glimpse how she earned the trust of her constituency through decades of personal involvement and with the Nehru tradition of honoring public meetings, all while preserving her own privacy. The author occasionally dwells on darker moments, but Sonia does not appear to rely on sympathy. Readers initially intrigued by the famous namesake (unrelated to Mahatma), by India’s violent, sometimes sectarian past and by the Nehru descendants—often likened to the Kennedys—will find that the author assembles a story of mostly balanced perspective. Readers unfamiliar with Sonia’s life will also discover a woman of surprisingly level-headed strength.
A book of humane scope that reveals an intriguing political history and a life of compassion.