At the Helm of the World

Pankaj Mishra

  • The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen by Aileen Kelly
    Harvard, 582 pp, £31.95, May 2016, ISBN 978 0 674 73711 2

The Soviet-subsidised mobile bookshops that enlivened my provincial childhood in the India of the late 1970s and early 1980s always had, in among the English translations of Marx, Lenin and various socialist realist novels, an edition of Alexander Herzen’s novel Who Is to Blame? The title was irresistible and its theme of stupor and futility in the provinces seemed both contemporary and urgent. The ‘tryst with destiny’ promised by Nehru in 1947 seemed further away than ever in an India that was failing to catch up with the West and become a modern, prosperous and equitable country.

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