Snehal Shingavi’s complex book, The Mahatma Misunderstood: The Politics and Forms of Literary Nationalism in India, works on two levels. First, it is an analysis of important Indian literary works of the 1930s, centering on Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1936), Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (1938), and Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi (1940). Second, and perhaps more important, the book tackles the metacritical question of how these texts can be understood in light of theoretical debates in postcolonial studies, subaltern studies, Marxist historiography, nationalist historiography, Gandhi studies, and Indian English literary studies. Shingavi deftly interweaves these different levels of analysis, producing a dense text that engages on a number of fronts.

Shingavi begins by asking a seemingly straightforward question: Why is it such a widespread assumption in Indian and postcolonial literary criticism that the 1930s saw the flourishing of the Gandhian novel? To answer that question,...

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