Book Review & Literature

They Refused To Let Justice Be Crucified

by Terry Messman

Dust wrapper courtesy Univ. Press of Kentucky

During their hard-fought struggle to overcome nearly impossible odds and win voting rights for African American citizens who had been disenfranchised for 100 years, civil rights activists marched down the long and treacherous road that led from the brutal battlefield of Selma, Alabama, through a seemingly endless gauntlet of beatings, bombings, bloodshed, gunshots, martyrdom, and a tri-state assassination conspiracy.

Even though their nonviolent efforts to win the right to vote were met with some of the most shocking violence of the civil rights era, the Freedom Movement stood its ground and claimed perhaps its most significant and far-reaching victory for human rights — the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As a young man, Bernard LaFayette was chosen to become the key organizer of this dangerous and bloody struggle, and he offers a fascinating insider’s look into the Selma campaign in interviews and in his recent book, In Peace and Freedom, My Journey in Selma. The lessons in community organizing, in this highly insightful case study, are deeply valuable and relevant to today’s human rights activists.

Find the Cost of Freedom

In opening up this chapter of the Freedom Movement to reveal its lessons, it is important to approach it, not as some academic case study in nonviolence, but with the clear-eyed realization of the terrible price that was paid in bloodshed and the loss of life. LaFayette has given us something far more profound than just another case study of nonviolence. He has also opened our eyes to the heartbreaking sacrifices made by decent and compassionate people such as Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo and Rev. James Reeb, who selflessly gave their very lives in their commitment to fighting for the most basic of human rights.

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Book Review: My Life is My Message by Narayan Desai.

by Orient BlackSwan

Cover art courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Narayan Desai (b. 1924) was the son of Gandhi’s personal secretary and closest advisor, Mahadev Desai. Raised and educated at Gandhi’s ashrams, Sabarmati and Sevagram, he has remained committed to the Gandhian movement and to Gandhian principles his entire life. After marrying he joined Vinoba Bhave’s community and later became a leading figure in the Shanti Sena, Peace Army. He founded Peace Brigades International, and was also chairman of War Resisters International. This four-volume biography of Gandhi, written in Gujarati, has long been considered a staple of Gandhian research and this first English translation is a welcome addition to the literature. The text that follows is the publisher’s description of My Life is My Message (tr. Tridip Suhrud), 4 vols., Gandhi Studies (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009). Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end of the article for further information. JG

Most biographies of Mahatma Gandhi tell the story of a great political leader who led India to freedom. But for Gandhi, his politics was a part of his spiritual quest. Swaraj means self-rule and not merely political autonomy; Gandhi’s struggles were meant to aid the quest for individual self-perfection. Everything he did—the Dandi salt march or his fasts for self-purification—was part of this struggle for self-realisation.

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Book Review: “A way out of no way”: The Nonviolence Handbook by Michael N. Nagler

by Ken Butigan

Cover of Berrett-Koehler edition; courtesy of the publisher

The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action— a new volume by long-time peace and nonviolence scholar Michael Nagler published this month by Berrett-Koehler — offers the reader a crisp articulation of the dynamics, principles and contemporary application of Gandhian nonviolence that is both brief and clear. A scant 84 pages, including footnotes and an index, this publication really is a handbook in the classic sense: a short compendium of concise information about a particular subject, a type of reference work, a collection of instructions, and something “small enough to be held in the hand.” Nagler’s new book is, in this sense, a handy summary of the workings of nonviolent change and how it can transform our lives and our world.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say from the outset that I was Nagler’s teaching assistant years ago and he, in turn, served on my degree committee in graduate school. I have always found his work a powerful contribution to nonviolent studies. I have used his publications in my teaching, including The Search for a Nonviolent Future, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written on the power of nonviolence. Even before meeting Nagler, though, his work influenced me strongly. As a neophyte activist in the 1980s I happened upon his America Without Violence, which opened up for a social change newbie a vision of nonviolence grounded in humanity’s potential. It helped strengthen my hope that enduring nonviolent transformation was possible.

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A Meeting with Ignazio Silone

by Dorothy Day

Ignazio Silone; photographer unknown.

In wrestling with the problem of how to present the teachings of nonviolence in an age of mass violence, it seems to me that the writings of Ignazio Silone are of immense importance. When I first read Bread and Wine in the forties, I was deeply impressed, not only with the story of the revolutionary returning secretly from his exile in Switzerland, but with the call to a personalist approach which must precede any communitarian effort.

I had heard from Father Jack English, a former CW editor, of Silone’s visit to the Trappist monastery of the Holy Spirit at Conyers, Georgia. Silone spent the day at the Abbey within the enclosure, and it was left to Father English to be guest master and converse with his wife, a beautiful Irish woman whom he met during his exile in Switzerland. They had come to Atlanta to discuss the problems of the South and had been brought to the monastery by the editor of the Atlanta Constitution because there was an international meeting of the Trappist order going on there.

On another occasion Silone and his wife had visited New York and New England and had called the office of The Catholic Worker, but I did not receive the message until they were well on their way back to Italy.

So I was delighted when I was invited to dine with them in Rome in late October. We went to a restaurant on the Piazza Carlo Goldoni that was usually very quiet, they said. There was a large area outside for dining; but it was a cool night, so we went into one of the small rooms, which, unfortunately, was very crowded and noisy that night. There were two tables full of noisy young Americans, one large party of uproarious Italians and still another family with small babies. So I did not get as complete an interview as I would have liked.

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Book Review: Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine by David Shulman

by William J. Jackson

1. The Activist Author

Around a decade ago I would see American news programs showing ambulances at a scene of broken glass and chaos, caused by a Palestinian suicide bomber targeting Israeli civilians. Those scenes made me wonder what life must be like for ordinary Palestinians and sympathetic pacifists among the Israelis.

Cover image courtesy Reuters/Corbis & University of Chicago Press

Dark Hope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) is a poignant book about Israeli activists’ outreach efforts to befriend and support Palestinians whose homes and fields had been impinged upon by settlers and security measures. The author belongs to a voluntary group named Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, formed in 2000. This alliance is “dedicated to the pursuit of peace, to ending the occupation, and to civic equality within Israel proper.” (p.1) Israeli members of Ta’ayush go out of their comfort zones to publicly take a stand to support endangered Palestinian villagers.

Of course, Ta’ayush is not alone in this work. There are similar Israeli groups, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, The Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, Bar Shalom, Gush Shalom, Kids4Peace, etc. Shulman writes of Ta’ayush: “We follow the classical tradition of civil disobedience in the footsteps of Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King.” He says the goal is “to construct a true Arab-Jewish partnership” and he quotes Ta’ayush literature: “A future of equality, justice, and peace begins today, between us, through concrete, daily actions of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve full civil equality for all Israeli citizens.” (p. 11)

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Gandhi in R. K. Narayan’s The Vendor of Sweets

by R. A. Jayantha

The impressive popularity achieved by some of the novels of R. K. Narayan, notably The Financial Expert, The English Teacher and The Guide, seems to have somewhat obscured his significant achievement in The Vendor of Sweets (hereafter abbreviated to The Vendor).

Cover art, Penguin Classics edition; photograph by Abbas/Magnum.

A creation of his ripe age and maturity as novelist – Narayan was sixty at the time of writing this work – it has a subtle charm, which becomes apparent to the reader only after a second or third reading. At least, it was so with me. In terms of outward events, dramatic and sensational happenings, and variety of people, The Vendor is a complete contrast to his other novels. It is outwardly quiet and gentle. It does not have anything like the menacing presence of a raakshasa (man-eating monsters) to contend with, as in The Man-eater of Malgudi. Nor is there a whole community of people, which in its blind trust and faith helps in the transformation of a ragamuffin and rascal into a saint and martyr, as in The Guide. There is no run on a private bank by hundreds of panic-stricken depositors, as in The Financial Expert. Nor does a magnificent tiger stray into the streets of Malgudi, as in A Tiger for Malgudi, to throw its people into utter confusion to start with, and later into attainment of mystical illumination. Instead The Vendor tells us the domestic story of a father and son. An impulsive and drastic reduction of the price of sweets is the only sensational thing to happen in it. Unlike The Man-eater of Malgudi, its predecessor, which presents a richly peopled world almost Chaucerian in its variety, this novel focuses attention on a limited number of people: Jagan the protagonist, his son Mali, Mali’s companion Grace, and Jagan’s ubiquitous cousin who is not given a name. In addition to these chief characters, there are Jagan’s wife Ambika, his parents, Chinna Dorai the hair-blackener and sculptor, and a few others. If the number of characters is limited in this novel, it presents greater psychological subtlety and depth of feeling than many other novels of Narayan.

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Danilo Dolci: Nonviolence in Sicily

by Joseph Geraci

In March, 1969, Danilo Dolci was in New York for the publication of his book, The Man Who Plays Alone. Dorothy Day and I had the good fortune of meeting him for an hour and a half, in a quiet corner of the lobby of the famous Algonquin Hotel, along with ten or so others that included Dolci’s biographer, Jerre Mangione, his editor, the journalist and co-founder of Pax, Eileen Egan and various press people.

Danilo Dolci; c. 1970; public domain image; photographer unknown.

Dolci was actually born in Sezana, Yugoslavia, under Italian administration at the time of his birth. So, if you were to imagine a small Sicilian type, you would be surprised. He is over six feet tall and solidly built; his eyes dark blue, behind gold-rimmed glasses. He was wearing an inexpensive knit suit and tie, and spoke without gestures. His answers to our questions were short and precise, often only a yes or no; he always looked directly at the questioner, sometimes returned a question with a question, and sometimes made a joke. Dolci has also published a volume of poetry; he uses words carefully and precisely.

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Danilo Dolci: The Gandhi of Sicily

by Joseph Geraci

A Passion for Sicilians: The World Around Danilo Dolci by Jerre Mangione. New York: William Morrow, 1968.

Danilo Dolci has been dubbed the “Gandhi of Sicily.” Since the mid 1950s he has attracted attention as one of the world’s leading social reformers and nonviolent activists. His methods and thought should have attracted considerable attention in America, where the need for both grassroots planning (pianificazione) and local redevelopment is apparent, although he remains relatively unknown.

Danilo Dolci, c. 1955; photographer unknown; courtesy of

Who is Dolci? This is the question Mangione’s comprehensive book sets out to answer. Thanks to a Fulbright grant, Mangione was able to spend several months of 1965 in Partinico, living near Dolci, and his Center of Studies. Part journal, part travel diary, part biography, it holds surprises. For example, Dolci is not Sicilian, and is barely Italian. “His Italian father had German and Italian parents; his Slav mother had parents who were German and Slav. This makes him half German, one quarter Slav and one quarter Italian.” Indeed, the town of Sezana, where he was born on June 29, 1924, is part of Yugoslavia; at the time “administered” by Italy. He began his intellectual life reading not the literature of rebellion and revolution but the classics, including the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius and the Tao te Ching. He never read Thoreau and read Gandhi only after a French journalist referred to him as the “Gandhi of Sicily.” His first published book was a book of poetry. He studied architecture for four years in Milan but did not take a degree, stopping short a few weeks before graduation.

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Interview: Why Nicholson Baker is a Pacifist

by Nathan Schneider

Nicholson Baker; public domain photograph; courtesy of

Anyone who makes even a modest habit of speaking out against war in public soon runs up against the inevitable, supposedly unanswerable question: What about World War II? It’s meant to be the ultimate stumper. This was the “good war,” wasn’t it, the war waged by the “greatest generation” against the evil incarnate of Hitler and imperial Japan? There was simply no other choice before the forces of goodness and truth but to leap into the single most deadly undertaking in all of human history. Right?

That won’t work if you’re talking to Nicholson Baker. In an extraordinary cover story in Harper’s Magazine, “Why I’m a Pacifist: The Dangerous Myth of the Good War,” Baker explains how learning about World War II was actually a big part of what made him a pacifist in the first place. “In fact,” he writes, “the more I learn about the war, the more I understand that the pacifists were the only ones, during a time of catastrophic violence, who repeatedly put forward proposals that had any chance of saving a threatened people. They weren’t naïve, they weren’t unrealistic—they were psychologically acute realists.”

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Instances of Gandhi in Indian Fiction

by P. Sreenivasulu Reddy

In the 1920s and 1930s Gandhi was not yet an undisputed leader. There were many who did not have faith in his nonviolent, non-cooperation movement. But his social reforms, such as eradication of untouchability, the picketing of hot toddy shops, and the social reform ideals influenced by Ruskin (sarvodaya) drew nearly everyone’s attention. The most humiliated and long neglected sections of Indian society had at last found someone to champion their cause, and by the late 1930s, Gandhi’s successful Salt Satyagraha campaign and march demonstrated to the world the effectiveness of the nonviolent struggle for independence. Apart from nonviolence (ahimsa), Gandhi’s love of truth and spirit of sacrifice made him the guiding spirit of the Indian freedom struggle. Under his influence, many sacrificed what little they had for the sake of making India a free country.

R. K. Narayan. Cover photo of Penguin Classics Edition

This article gives an overview of some appearances of Gandhi as a figure in Indian English-language fiction, for example as a character in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), The Sword and the Sickle (1942) and Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi (1991), and by other authors such as K.A. Abbas in Inqilab (1955), R.K. Narayan in Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), and The Vendor of Sweets (1967), and Nagarajan in Chronicles of Kedaram (1961).

Although he does not appear as a character in K.S. Venkataramani’s Murugan, the Tiller (1927) or Kandan, the Patriot (1932) nor in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (1938), Gandhi is nonetheless the driving force represented by characters inspired by his ideals. Gandhi’s followers, if not Gandhi, also appear in Bhabani Bhattacharya’s  So Many Hungers (1947), Mrs. Sahgal’s  A Time to be Happy (1957) and the previously mentioned The Vendor of Sweets by R. K. Narayan.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi