The Agent in the Margin: Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction is a comprehensive study of the literary works of Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly—and niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Clara A. B. Joseph introduces Mahatma Gandhi’s political and philosophical to literary analysis and utilizes non-structuralist aspects of Louis Althusser’s theories of ideology to trace how characters marginalized by gender, class, race, and language in Sahgal’s work assume agency, challenging poststructuralist theories of cultural and ideological determinism. She considers how gender complicates autobiography and how the roles of daughter, virgin, wife, widow, and alien serve (often ironically) to highlight human dignity.
"As I read Clara Joseph's The Agent in the Margin: Nayantara Sahgal's Gandhian Fiction, I was brought back to [my] first meeting with Sahgal and our wide-ranging conversation about her life, Indian politics, and literature. Since that time, I have read a great deal of scholarly commentary on Sahgal's writing, and Joseph's book stands out as the most serious and sustained examination of the literary, cultural, and political significance of Sahgal's work to date. ... It is [a] careful reading of Sahgals' work in dialogue with the influence of Gandhi's writing and Indian culture and history that is perhaps the most original and insightful aspect of Joseph's book. ... This is an essential book for any scholar interested in making sense of this important literary figure in contemporary Indian literature. "- Jill Didur, University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 80, number 2, Summer 2011
"How lucky we are to have this book, which captures the unusual place of Nayantara Sahgal's committed writing in contemporary Indian literature. Best known as Jawaharlal Nehru's niece and a severe critic of her cousin Indira Gandhi, Sahgal appears in Joseph's vividly concise analysis as a strong writer mapping agency for Indian collective identity. Grounding her approach in an acute summation of the entire arc of her subjects life-thought, Clara Joseph balances brilliantly her literary criticism of Sahgal's work with philosophical elements that make her book an interesting theoretical piece thoroughly woven with rigor and deep sensitivity. As such, postcolonial and Gandhian scholars are offered here the opportunity to consider the interaction between Gandhian ideology and Sahgal's fiction in the context of the making of post-independence India. "- Ramin Jahanbegloo, University of Toronto, author of India Revisited (2007)and The Spirit of India (2008)