An Engaging Historical Engagement – Book Review of Threads of Peace by Uma Krishnaswami

An absorbing examination of how Mahatma Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King Jr., Threads of PeaceHow Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World is a riveting read. Besides the main story, Krishnaswami succeeds in drawing in the reader through sidebars that offer a glimpse into her own personal history connection to the narrative she unfolds, vignettes into some of the personalities involved as well as the sites and colours of the respective movements.

Content

The book is divided into sections beginning with “The Right to Take a Seat”, which references the actual instances where Mahatma Gandhi, then a young lawyer, was thrown off the train in South Africa and Martin Luther King Jr. began to resent blacks having to give up their bus seats for the white people. It then moves in for a close-up of the history of the journeys of the two visionaries as they moved to firm up their movement’s raison d’etre of non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi’s childhood, youth, and struggles in South Africa, which laid the foundation of his life are detailed and the narrative segues to the focus of the story – how his ideals found resonance in the civil rights movement in the USA.  It then provides an insight into Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, his increasing awareness of racial segregation outside the home despite ameliorative legislation supposedly in place, his initial struggle to cope with academia, and his decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a preacher while chalking out his own path. The next section, “When the Threads Break” is a portrait of Nathuram Godse and James Earl Ray, the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. It ends with the author’s heartfelt plea for making a conscious choice for peace.

Why It Should Be Read

It’s a very ambitious attempt and to see it being pulled off with elan is what makes it a gratifying read. It’s not just that various historical periods and contexts are seamlessly woven together, but that in doing so, Krishnaswami chooses to embellish her account with details, which is what gives heft to the broad sweep that she has taken on. It’s in these details wherein lie the book’s appeal as it unearths nuggets from history that may be unknown to the general reader. The use of the Gandhi caps and the black child who was the first to refuse to give up her bus seat are just two instances. Krishnaswami also connects the past with contemporary movements like “Black Lives Matter” in the USA and others.

So, if you’re looking for a deep dive into the life and times of two visionary men this is what should be read and re-read, especially given our fractious time. This brings me to another charm of the book – that Krishnaswami does not gloss over the differences that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had with those caught up in their movements as well as those who chose other paths to the same goals. Nor does she undermine the contribution of the throngs who supported them, marched along with them, and went to prison for it. It’s always difficult when speaking of men who were giants of their time to not resort to hagiography. Krishnaswami succeeds in getting the tone just right. Kudos to her.

The book is also worth reading as an exemplar of citing sources (running into eight pages!) with every historical information and quotes painstakingly detailed as well as photo credits in their own separate sections. It’s a sumptuous book with stunning high-resolution photographs and artwork that uses the imagery of the threads that bind and divide and the doves of peace to stunning effect without getting repetitive.

Information on the Book

Described as a book for Young Readers, it is an eye-opener for adults as well. An e-book edition is available, but go for the hard copy to do better justice to the wonderful layout. Somehow this will be lost in an e-book. Yes, it is a hefty tome going over 300 pages, but it’s because of the pains the author has taken, not only to showcase the story she sets out to write but also to add sections of Author’s Note, Acknowledgment, Bibliography as well as a historical Timeline, Glossary and an Index along with Photo Credits and Sources.

Threads of Peace is published by Simon & Schuster, New York, USA under its imprint Atheneum Books. It’s described as a Caitlyn Dlouhy book and I was delighted to learn that she is one of the editors at the publishing house and her name gets pride of place on the books she selects. In her own words, “The power of voice […] - voices that just plain shimmer and hum, that press and push and experiment – is utterly irresistible.” You’ll find it in this book in large measure. Go get it. I got my copy for INR 799 from Kahani Tree. They ship worldwide.

This book review has been written by Madhuri Kamat, author of Flying with GrandpaBringing Back GrandpaBurial of The Dead - Mystery in a Mohalla, and Yudi Yudi Dharmasya: Mahabharat - Through the Eyes of Kunti

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