Book Review : More fiction than fact?

The reasons why there is a big fuss over ‘The Red Sari’, Sonia Gandhi’s fictionalised biography

English version of The Red Sari, Spanish writer Javier Moro’s ‘dramatized biography’ of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, will now be available in Indian bookstores, seven years after it was first published in Spain. The publishing of the book in India was strongly opposed by the Congress then, and the book was published in several languages overseas

According a report by The Telegraph , Sonia Gandhi’s lawyers and aides accused Moro of distorting facts and misinterpreting details in the book. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi in 2010 had issued a defamation notice to Moro contending that the biography is “full of untruths, half-truths, falsehoods, defamatory statements, completely imaginary and invented conversations with quotation marks and narrations of nonexistent situations in the first person”, a 2010 India Today report states.

The book, which was unofficially banned in India, is finally being published in India by Roli Books. Pramod Kapoor, publisher of Roli Books, told The Telegraph, “I don’t see why anybody should have a problem with the book. I read the book three times. It is a well-researched book, written in a fictionalised style like most biographies in the West are written.” Outlook , in a recent report, published excerpts from the book, one of which reads, ‘Delhi society was conventional and small – it seemed as if everyone knew each other. Most praised Sonia’s beauty, but others alluded to her lack of pedigree: “She’s a nobody” or criticised her way of dressing, “She wants to attract attention.’

Another one reads, ‘Sonia got up, wrapped her robe around her, and went into the living room to answer the phone. Amid all the interference, she recognised the nervous voice of one of her mother-in-law’s secretaries. Now she was certain that it would be very bad news. “Madam… Sanjayji has had an accident…He’s dead.” Sonia’s hair stood on end when she heard that. She was about to shout “No!” loudly, but she stopped herself. She knew they would try to persuade Rajiv to fill the vacuum his brother had left. Sonia knew this would mean the end of their happiness. She was prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening.’

UK ‘Telegraph’ reported in 2010 that Sonia Gandhi ‘had taken strong exception to her portrayal in ‘The Red Sari’ as a snob who wanted to leave India following her husband’s 1991 assassination. The book also portrays her as a central figure in Indira Gandhi’s 1975 imposition of emergency rule.’

Moro’s book, however, is not sourced on direct information from the Congress President herself or those close to her. “My sources were secondary — books, articles published in the Indian press, etc. The only sources I had were people who had befriended the Gandhis, and Sonia’s neighbours and friends in Italy, Moro told The Tehelka in an interview in 2010.

In the same interview, when asked if his book is a fictionalised biography or non-fiction, Moro replied, “I wanted to write a biography of Sonia Gandhi, but I couldn’t get access to her or her family. I did not invent any characters. I’ve invented dialogue for necessary reasons, but whatever I’ve written should not surprise Indians.”