An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth

A Critical Edition

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M. K. Gandhi
Editor(s): 
Tridip Suhrud
Translator(s): 
Mahadev Desai
  • New Haven, CT: 
    Yale University Press
    , March
     2018.
     816 pages.
     $35.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780300234077.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

By 1925, Mohandas Gandhi was well known around the world as the leader of the movement within India to end the colonial occupation of that nation by the British. At the age of fifty-eight, he undertook a long process of writing reflections on his life that he published weekly in the Indian Gandhian magazine, Navajivan, with English translations soon following and published in the companion English-language magazine, Young India.He completed that work in February 1929.

Almost immediately, the 166 installments were gathered and published as a book—though they were not initially written nor experienced by readers as a single book but rather as a long series of vignettes on Gandhi’s life. The story Gandhi told took the reader to 1921, the time when the work of applying the Gandhian program of nonviolent social change to the effort to gain Indian independence was gathering steam.

One of Gandhi’s close colleagues, Mahadev Desai, translated most of Gandhi’s autobiographical reflections shortly after they were written into English with ongoing input from Gandhi. The book version of the original articles, written in Gandhi’s native Gujarati, was published in two volumes, the first in 1927 and the second in 1929. An English version followed almost immediately in each case. Very little was changed in the transition from the magazine articles to the book.

The English version was republished in 1940 in a more inexpensive edition. This republication occasioned a revision of the translation by Desai in collaboration with an anonymous colleague, though little of the content changed. Gandhi’s story of his “experiments with truth” became a spiritual classic, published in various editions in the years since. This new “critical edition” is the first effort to update the English version.

However, very little has changed from the 1940 edition. Tridip Suhrud has provided an introduction and extensive notes but has left the Desai translation intact. The annotations take two forms. First, there are notes on the side margins that suggest changes in translation, though without explanation. These are almost all quite minor and often the suggested change seems little better than the original. Second, at the bottom of the page, we get short notes of clarification of various terms and names as well as notes that identify where the 1940 edition made changes to the original version. Occasionally, we will get a longer explanation of historical context, connections with other parts of the story, short biographies of people Gandhi mentions, and other pieces of information. 

The notations are somewhat helpful for the general reader, especially the ones that provide useful background information. At the same time, they often are distracting. This edition of Gandhi’s autobiography will likely be most useful to readers who have a more specialized interest in this book.

Those who have not before read Gandhi’s Autobiography will benefit from the information contained in this critical edition. The thirty-five-page introduction by editor Tridip Suhrud provides helpful background information about the production of the book, both with regard to Gandhi’s writing, the book’s translation into English, the 1940 revised edition, and the present critical edition. Little is written about Gandhi’s ideas or the impact of the book.

The potential new reader should be aware that in the years shortly before writing My Autobiography, Gandhi had written two other books that reflected in depth on his philosophy of active nonviolence: Hind Swaraj and Satyagraha in South Africa. Apparently as a consequence of having made those books available, Gandhi actually has very little to say about the emergence and practice of Satyagraha in the story of his “experiments with truth.” In this story, he focuses much more on themes such as diet, self-disciple, sexual abstinence, child rearing, and health self-care as he details various incidences of his early life in India, his time studying law in England, and his work as a lawyer in South Africa.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ted Grimsrud is Senior Professor of Peace Theology at Eastern Mennonite University.

Date of Review: 
May 31, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tridip Suhrud works on the life and thought of Gandhi and the intellectual history of Gujarati. He has translated a four-part biography of Gandhi, My Life Is My Message. He is currently working on an eight-volume compendium of peasant testimonies of indigo cultivators of Champaran. He lives in Ahmedabad.

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