Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (review)
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Reviewed by
Kelkar, Supriya Ahimsa. Tu/Lee & Low, 2017 [320p]
ISBN 978-1-62014-356-8 $18.95
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-6

Anjali is ten years old in 1942 India when her mother heeds Gandhi’s call, quits her job as secretary and translator for a British captain, and dedicates herself to improving the lives of the Untouchables, whom Gandhi calls Harijan, or children [End Page 119] of God. Anjali follows her mother’s lead, but the pair promptly discovers that good intentions don’t go far in solving entrenched problems and that as members of the Brahmin caste, they are met with skepticism, even derision, by those they seek to help. Kelkar necessarily tackles multiple weighty historical themes to do justice to this complex period: Hindu-Muslim rioting; the caste system and socioeconomic tensions; self identification among the Untouchables; Gandhi’s influence and personal class bias; British imperial attitudes during wartime. The book is at its narrative best when it focuses on Anjali’s concerns, such as burning her foreign-made clothing and getting used to homespun wear; discovering that her Untouchable acquaintance rejects Gandhi’s “Harijan” term as condescending and prefers “Dalit, ” or “oppressed”; falling out with a Muslim friend during the riots. However, many incidents require context, and too often that is delivered in the form of didactic political conversation that slows the pacing. This is nonetheless a thought-provoking, accessible work for middle grades, and readers for whom Gandhi equates simply with ahimsa, or nonviolence, will consider the virtues and the limits of that political strategy.

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