Title: Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny
Author: Rani Singh
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Sonia Gandhi, widow to Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, has played a large role in Indian politics for the last forty years. Born and raised in Italy, she met and fell in love with Rajiv while studying at Cambridge. She adopted India as her country and has helped shape its politics since their marriage by supporting her mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and husband in their political careers. Now, she is watching her children rise to the forefront of Indian politics.
Sonia Gandhi is a fascinating woman whose life has been filled with tragedy. Since her marriage to Rajiv, she has dealt with the death of her brother-in-law, Sanjay, in an airplane crash. Her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi (daughter of one of the forefathers of modern India, Jawarhalal Nehru) died in Sonia’s arms at the hands of one of her bodyguards. Her husband, Rajiv, was assassinated just a few years later while campaigning. It would be enough to make any woman retreat into herself, but not Sonia.
In this biography, Rani Singh portrays Sonia as a quiet but confident woman. Very private, it’s difficult to really get to know Sonia, but Singh does an excellent job giving the reader an extended glimpse into her personality, and how her decisions have been shaped by her history. Upon arriving in India, Sonia wasn’t sure she wanted the very public life that goes hand in hand with being a Nehru-Gandhi. But she rose to the challenge admirably, and traveled further than anyone expected, becoming a well-respected politician in her own right, destined to shape the future of India.
So how did this marvelous transformation occur? Singh takes the reader back to Sonia’s early days and traces her life, talking with those who knew her the best. From her closest friends to fiercest political rivals, Singh looks at as many different sources as possible in order to create an unbiased and true picture of Sonia Gandhi. Though the end result is flattering for the most part, Singh is honest about Sonia’s flaws as well.
In order to discuss Sonia Gandhi, it is necessary to scrutinize the family she married into, and here is where this biography really excels. By placing Sonia’s life into the larger context of Indian politics, Singh shows what a true force Sonia is. Singh also has some interesting insights into difficult periods of Indian history, from the true brains behind the Emergency to Indira Gandhi’s certainty that she was signing her death warrant by taking certain actions (and indeed, she was assassinated very soon afterwards). She portrays the still-controversial Indira Gandhi as a complex and astute woman, but one with major flaws and trust issues.
Whether you are looking for a biography of the charismatic Sonia Gandhi or a brief and easily digestible history of the politics of modern India, Sonia Gandhi is a wonderful book to pick up. Singh’s writing style is engaging and the book never is dry. I found this glimpse into Sonia Gandhi’s life and personality fascinating, and am eager to read more about her.