Narendra Modi, widely expected to emerge as prime minister from India’s upcoming parliamentary elections, is known for his reluctance to engage directly with the media, given the questions and controversies surrounding his early personal life and his tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister.
That’s why a new book, Narendra Modi, A Political Biography, by a little-known British writer, Andy Marino, is attracting plenty of attention – and questions about how an author with no known prior connection to India won an entrée to such a normally inaccessible figure.
The book itself, published by HarperCollins India and distributed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to foreign journalists this week, gives few answers. Marino boasts of “many hours of conversation” with his subject, calling them “the first time he has granted such access to any journalist or author, Indian or foreign.”
Yet he is mum on how he won this great prize. In the acknowledgements, the only people thanked individually – besides Marino’s wife and son – are Modi and a Modi aide, who manages the chief’s minister’s schedule. Marino does express gratitude to “senior journalists and seasoned experts in Indian politics” but names none.
The breathless narrative – which begins with the author speeding, with the chief minister, towards a helipad braving the threat of an attack by agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence – gives no back-story as to how a London-based writer with a PhD in English literature and limited experience of India, found himself there.
The early chapters of the book – dealing with Modi’s youth – are basically a grown-up version of Bal Narendra, or Young Narendra, a comic book recently published to demonstrate how the BJP leader was displaying innate leadership skills even as a young boy.
Like the comic book, Marino’s biography recounts a heroic swim by Modi in the crocodile-infested lake, and how the future politician diligently found ways to improve the efficiency of how his mother did her household chores.
Marino – not to be confused with Andy Marino, the American author of young adult fantasy fiction – has written two previous biographies, both of World War II figures.
His 1999 book, A Quiet American: The Secret Life of Varian Fry, was about an American journalist who helped many European intellectuals and artists escape the war-torn continent, and received favourable reviews. Much of the original research was done decades earlier by someone else, who then turned to Marino to help him complete the long-abandoned project.
The writer’s first book, published in 1997, was Herschel: The Boy who Started World War II, about a Polish-German-Jewish boy who assassinated a German diplomat in 1938. According to Kirkus Review – a US-based book review magazine, Marino did no original research, basing his own writing entirely on two previous biographies of his subject.
Kirkus, it is clear, was not impressed with the result. It gripes that Marino uses “hyperventilated and sometimes hagiographic prose,” and makes a “ludicrous and utterly unsubstantiated claim” about his subject.
Summing up, Kirkus calls the book a “padded, somewhat superficial biography that, from its subtitle on, makes highly-inflated claims about its subject.”
Much the same may perhaps be said about Marino’s biography of the man who would be India’s prime minister.
India elections file, beyondbrics
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