A book review I wrote, “Necessary Distance,” is out in Books and Culture. It covers two books on Gandhi’s life before he returned to India at the age of 45 (he left at 18). Most of those years he spent in South Africa. Gandhi is a fascinating character, and I found it a particularly interesting character study to learn how South Africa formed him. In some ways it is a classic immigrant tale, in which the homeland becomes more attractive and more romanticized because of living far from it. South Africa challenged Gandhi with its extreme racial prejudice; and it exposed him to a wide variety of people–Muslims, Christians, Europeans, Chinese–whom he would never have known in India. But it also, by its alien distance, fed his Indianness, without forcing him to confront India’s shadow side as he would have done had he lived in India. Thus he became a lifelong devotee of Indian village life–he, who had probably never spent a day in an Indian village–and a defender of caste.
If you’d like to read the essay, it’s here.