Book bits

Indian Summer

Author: Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian Summer, one of the year's most well-received books, explores the 60-year-old partition of India and an unlikely cast of major players. As politicians try to gain support for a partition solution in Iraq, author Alex von Tunzelman discusses the past and its lessons for today.

Q: What fascinated you about this era?

A: It really was a time when you had these incredible characters in politics – Gandhi, [Pakistani leader Mohammed Ali] Jinnah, Churchill. Whether they liked or hated each other impacted history.

Q: You write that women in India were more powerful and influential than in Western countries at the time. Several played crucial roles during the fight for independence. Why is that?

A: When they talked about it, the women often attributed it to Gandhi-ism. The idea that you could sit down and have a passive protest and even be sent to jail was fine and fit with [the] feminine image.

Q: Countries that fought in World War II are now allies, while India and Pakistan continue to despise each other after six decades. How come?

A: An awful lot of that can be traced to this story of partition. There's never been full satisfaction over the way India was divided, but there would have been no way you could have drawn it that would have made anyone happy. Lots of people will still argue that it shouldn't have been divided all.

Q: Do you think it would have been possible to have done a better job of partition?

A: Not without considerably more investment from Britain, which was really in a terrible state, a major financial crisis.

It was also exhausted just two years after the end of the Second World War. The soldiers just wanted to come home. You had to partition this extremely inflamed territory without enough soldiers to keep the peace.

Q: Are there lessons to be learned in Iraq from the Indian partition?

A: You absolutely cannot do this on the cheap. If you're going to prevent the kind of horrific genocide that happened in India and Pakistan, you need a lot of soldiers.

It's also really important to not start partitioning countries along on the lines of religion. You enforce the divides that are already there, which is a very dangerous thing.

Three books about Shakespeare

So much of Shakespeare the writer is available to us today and yet so little of the man. In Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson ("The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid") does the most he can with the scant biography available. Elsewhere he fills in with lively looks at subjects such as Shakespearean scholars and the world as it was in the Bard's era. As always, Bryson is an entertaining guide.

So unquestioned is our reverence for Shakespeare today that it's easy to forget that it wasn't always so. In Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife that Turned a Provincial Playwright Into the Bard, Rutgers University professor Jack Lynch offers an eye-opening study of Shakespeare's reputation from his death in 1616 up through his 300th birthday in 1864.

Perfect for the Bard enthusiast on your holiday gift list is Shakespeare: The Life, the Works, the Treasures by Catherine M.S. Alexander. Produced in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, this lovingly packaged volume includes 30 pieces of removable facsimile memorabilia related to Shakespeare's life and a CD of classic excerpts from his plays.– Staff

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