Things I've learned reading The Story of My Experiments with Truth
- Being vegan is hard. Like really, really, really hard.
- Earth treatments and hydropathy apparently cure everything.
- Ignorant and dirty people ruin third class passage, but we should all ride there anyway...so we can, you know, help them "change their ways."
- Gandhi would laugh at our current usage of the word "austerity."
- If you drink a lot of milk, you're going to have a bad time.
To say that I was disappointed with this book is a bit of an understatement. What little I know of Gandhi stems from the excellent Oscar-winning performance of Ben Kingsley and the casual glance we get of him in readings on European imperialism and de-colonialism or the obligatory quotes we get on occasions of great solemnity or inspiration. Needless to say, I was really stoked to learn more about the philosophy and life of one of the world's most inspiring and humble leaders.
The work was narrated to an assistant who recorded Gandhi's words (supposedly verbatim) in weekly sessions from 1925 to 1929, appearing in installments in several journals Gandhi worked with. The narrative recounts his earliest recollections through 1921, but many of the stories are repetitive in theme and purpose and if you think you're going to get 500 pages of inspired religious rhetoric about compassion and the use of non-violent resistance in campaigns, you'll be disappointed until you hit the last tenth of the book or so, where he delves into satyagraha in Indian protests of the Rowlatt Acts. In many instances, it's difficult to be certain what the campaigns are in response to and the precise position of the narrative in the course of events, but then again, Gandhi didn't keep a diary and was narrating off the cuff.
What you do end up geting in this volume is about 200 pages of amateur dietician proclaiming the health and spiritual benefits of a vegan diet. So much does diet dominate the narrative that they should seriously think about reclassifying this book and moving it to the "Health" section of the library and call it The Story of My Experiments with Food. As the narrative progresses, Gandhi becomes more and more austere with the vows and restrictions he imposes upon himself, sometimes for no other discernable reason than to see if he can. About 100 pages are devoted to pure medical quackery and the remainder a mix of recollections both mundane and insightful that keeps dragging you back for the brief glimpses at genius and compassion that we miss so much in the landscape of the 21st century. Are there enough of these moments to make it worth it? Not really. Stick to the quotes and watch the movie. Read a third-person biography from a historian with a little more narrative sense and you'll be more satisfied.
Obviously, the 2 star rating has nothing to do with Mr. Gandhi personally or his philosophy, both of which are fascinating...it's just that this narrative is so difficult to get through that I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone.