Author: Alex Von Tunzelmann
This is not just another history book, it is a masterpiece. A well researched and documented volume that tells the story of the last days of an empire hell bent on saving its face and hoping for a graceful exit.
The larger part of the book is taken up by the life and actions of the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, a man with king-making as his favorite sport. It would be spot on to call him, the protagonist of this story.
The book is filled with promising characters and gives a clear picture of their roles in the last days of the empire. Gandhi, the most colossal experiment in world history, Jinnah, with his smooth coiffure and venomnous glittering stare. Fatima, a woman of intelligence and drive, influential in her brother’s move towards Islamism, and last but not the least Nehru, the man who would usher Indian into independence with his “a tryst with destiny” speech.
In describing this book, I used the words – the last days of the empire and not the last days of India’s struggle for independence because by the time Mountbatten was appointed as the Viceroy, India’s fate as an independent nation was sealed. What remained to be done was how to transfer the power from the hands of British to either a united democratic India or a divided one.
The best part of the novel is the narration. It is told in a way that gives it an appearance of an epic historical novel rather than a factual history book. The novel gives an unbiased opinion on how and in what manner the British winded up the raj in their crown jewel of a colony, India. It states all the facts clearly so that readers can make their own mind as to whether it was a graceful decline or a majestic and ignominious fall.
Today, in India a great deal of credit is given to Patel for his role in negotiating with the states, but very little credit is given to Mountbatten for his role in making it happen. This book, focuses on the behind the scenes role played by Mountbatten in negotiating and at times arm twisting the native princes. Mountbatten may not have been able to give Patel a complete basket of apples, but it is striking that he managed to secure as many as he did.
This novel is filled with quotes that you would want to frame and paste on your walls.
Lastly, this book is not just the story of the last days of the empire; it is a story of love, negotiations, haughty characters, budding friendships and sacrifices.
Note: The events in this novel cover the time period from the last days of the empire till a little after India’s independence. For events on India’s struggle for independence, I would suggest you read the wonderful book by Bipin Chandra titled, India’s struggle for Independence.