Title: Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary
Author: Anita Anand
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography, Cultural (South Asian)
Rating: 5 out of 5
Sophia Duleep Singh was a princess, daughter of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the deposed leader of the Indian Sikh empire, but Sophia was more British than Indian. Born in England and goddaughter to Queen Victoria, Sophia lived the life of a British aristocrat, but she always knew that she was different. A trip to India in 1907 when she was 31 transformed Sophia completely, turning this genteel, quiet young woman into a fiery revolutionary, a suffragette who was willing to give up everything for the right to vote.
Anita Anand’s Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary takes a broad view of Sophia’s life, putting it into the proper context and helping the reader understand the history behind her. This is an absolutely fascinating historical biography that also manages to be compulsively readable, a difficult feat that Anand accomplishes expertly.
I’d read a fictionalization of the end of the Sikh empire at the hands of the British in Indu Sundaresan’s The Mountain of Light, but I find that when I am intrigued by fiction, it always leads me to seek out nonfiction on the same topic. Therefore, when I heard about Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, I was immediately intrigued. A historical biography about an Indian woman who was a feminist and fought for Indians’ rights? This book checked so many of my personal boxes for what I look for in my reading, I knew I had to get to it immediately.
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary was an absolutely captivating biography. I was hooked from the very first page. Anand chose a broad lens to view her subject through, rather than a narrow one, so you get a lot more than just Sophia’s history. Anand provides a lot of context for Sophia’s life, starting before she was born to fully understand the fall of the Sikh empire. When Sophia becomes involved in the struggle for the women’s vote, Anand discusses much more than just Sophia’s role in it. As a result, this book is a rich, colorful history of a tumultuous time period. You get a great sense of who Sophia was, to be sure, but it’s so nice to see her placed in context and understand the larger history surrounding her. It was a deliberate choice, to be sure, and one that I appreciated.
Anand also focuses quite a bit on Sophia herself, as, after all, this is a biography. She was a quiet woman who avoided the spotlight for much of her life. Her life was tragic in many ways; she lost so much of her family at a young age, plus she lived much of her life alone. It makes sense why she began to reluctantly seek the spotlight. Once Sophia found causes that were near to her heart, it makes sense that she threw herself into them. Anand really does a great job with Sophia; the reader really comes to know her over the course of the book and share Anand’s obvious affection for this remarkable woman.
This biography fills a real hole in history; I’ve always wondered what happened to all the men and women who were disinherited after the rise of the British Raj; now I have a better idea of that. I keep singing its praises, and for good reason: despite its length, this is a book I could have read in one sitting. It’s compulsively readable; not for a second is it boring, dry, or what you’d normally think of when you hear “historical biography.” It’s jam packed with fascinating information, and despite the fact that it’s so early into 2015, I have a feeling this book will be making an appearance on my best of list for the year.