I picked up this book without a lot of anticipation. It’s a comic about Gandhi, right? And we all know about Gandhi. But artist Kazuki Ebine did an interesting little twist with Gandhi: A Manga Biography. He decided to depict Gandhi not as a symbol, not as the great-souled leader of a nation, but as a human being. And it turns out that I knew less about Gandhi than I thought.
Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in Porbandar, British India, Gandhi was born into the upper middle class, and had enough money to study in London from age 18. He tried to fit into English society, adopting English dress and manners, but began to delve into studies of philosophy and the Hindu religion when he realized how completely he had turned his back on his Indian home. That was where the true path of his life began.
I didn’t know that. I didn’t know he met his future wife at age 13, or was thrown off a train into South Africa just because he was Indian. I didn’t know his career as an activist began in South Africa fighting for the rights of migrant Indian workers. Reading this comic, I found out I didn’t know much about Gandhi. I thought that he had been born a 60-year old man, leading people on a salt march.
Kazuki Ebine’s comic certainly isn’t long enough to serve as any sort of complete biography of Gandhi. Ebine touches on the major milestones of Gandhi’s life: the move to South Africa, the beginning of the non-violence philosophy, the jail time and success, returning to India to confront colonialism, and the schism between Muslim and Hindus that was never quite resolved and continues to this day.
In the art, Ebine always keeps the focus on Gandhi as a man. He is never a symbol, never larger-than-life. Ebine’s Gandhi is a fragile human being, able to be beaten but not broken. His Gandhi laughs and cries, and does his best to lead by example rather than by force, to “be the change you wish to see in others.”
Gandhi: A Manga Biography would be a great book for kids learning about Gandhi in school, or for people like me who think they know Gandhi but are really quite ignorant other than the name and the image. The comic serves as a sort of Gandhi-primer. It is almost impossible to just stop with this comic, and I found myself doing further research on this fascinating human being. I checked to see how authentic this comic is (very), and to see further details behind episodes briefly touched on.
All in all a very cool little comic that I am glad I read. I realize that we sometimes take familiarity of a name with knowledge of that person, but just knowing the name of someone is not the same thing as knowing about him. I am glad to know a little bit more about Gandhi thanks to Gandhi: A Manga Biography.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the ’90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.