FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES, TO SPEAK ABOUT HIS BESTSELLING BIOGRAPHY, GREAT SOUL: MAHATMA GANDHI AND HIS STRUGGLE WITH INDIA
NYS Writers Institute, April 3, 2012
Lelyveld makes extensive use of Gandhi’s personal correspondence in order to reconstruct his subject’s inner life. Part of the controversy about the work derives from publication of Gandhi’s letters to his close personal friend, the German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach, letters that many readers view as erotically charged.
The book is also informed by Lelyveld’s long tours of duty as a foreign correspondent both in India and in South Africa, where Gandhi lived and practiced law as a prosperous attorney for two decades, and where he first developed his philosophy of nonviolent resistance.
Writing in the New York Times, Hari Kunzru called the book, “Judicious and thoughtful,” and said, “Mr. Lelyveld has restored human depth to the Mahatma, the plaster saint, allowing his flawed human readers to feel a little closer to his lofty ideals of nonviolence and universal brotherhood…. Great Soul will come as a revelation.” Writing in the New York Review of Books, Anita Desai said, “Lelyveld has exploded so many myths and heaped up so many defeats that his life of Gandhi could easily be read as an ultimately critical one… yet there is no denying Lelyveld’s deep sympathy with the man. The picture that emerges is of someone intensely human, with all the defects and weaknesses that suggests, but also a visionary with a profound social conscience and courage who gave the world a model for nonviolent revolution that is still inspiring.”
Lelyveld spent nearly four decades at the New York Times, from 1962 through 2001, serving as foreign correspondent in the Congo, South Africa, India and Pakistan, then as London bureau chief, foreign editor, managing editor, and finally, executive editor from 1994 – 2001. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for his nonfiction book Move Your Shadow: South Africa Black and White, a panoramic portrait of South African society based on his reporting tours in that country. He is also the author of the memoir, Omaha Blues (2005), about his unhappy Nebraska childhood. Growing up, Lelyveld was frequently abandoned to the care of others by his accomplished and very busy parents: Arthur Lelyveld, a major Reform Rabbi and spokesman for the American Zionist movement, and Toby Lelyveld, a noted actress and Shakespeare scholar.
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