Reading this book as an Indian who grew up in the nineteen eighties and who had been fed a version of Indian independence through text books and what was taught in school, it is interesting to look at this seemingly fresh take on that massive story. At first, I expected the book to start somewhere in the 1930s, just long enough to give us a background to the final days of the Independence movement. What Tunzelman does however, is take us back to the 1800s to start her story, and builds up the move to Independence through the life of Nehru, Gandhi and both Edwina and Louis Mountbatten (and Jinnah to a lesser extent).
Because of this, the book is not a straight forward narrative about Indian independence and partition. It seems instead to be a biography of sorts for the main characters involved in the final days of the British Raj. Tunzelman recounts a lot from personal notes, memoirs and other private accounts from the many people that surrounded Nehru and the Mountbatten’s and even Gandhi (although she does state at the start that both the Nehru and Mountbatten family did not grant her any access to personal letters). This inclusion of personal anecdotes makes the book thoroughly readable for a historical narrative, providing us with random bits of information regarding the people surrounding the Independence movement that are normally ignored. It is through these personal accounts like private dinner parties or conversations with friends or perhaps letters written to family members that the reader gets into the mind of the characters, understanding the emotions being felt during this massive moment in history.
For someone who has never read the history of India’s independence, this may seem like a good place to start. Tunzelman’s easy way of writing, her simple flow of words and the exclusion of unnecessary characters makes this a good first book on the topic. For someone (like me) however who has read Indian history, you do tend to go away with a feeling that you did not get any new historical facts or revelations regarding the history of independence. What you did however get, was an inside look into the lives of the most important people surrounding the birth of India.