Author: Edward Morgan Forster
Publisher: Hardcourt, Inc.
Publishing Date: 1952
Number of Pages: 362
Genre: Historical, Political Fiction, Romance
“Hailed as one of the finest novels of the twentieth century and transformed into an Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India hauntingly evokes India at the peak of the British colonial era, complete with the racial tension that underscores every aspect of daily life. Into this setting, Forster introduces Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore, British visitors to Chandrapore who, despite their strong ties to the exclusive colonial community there, are eager for a more savory taste of India. But when their fates tangle with those of Cecil Fielding and his local friend, Dr. Aziz, at the nearby Marabar Caves, the community of Chandrapore is split wide open and everyone’s life-British and Indian alike-is inexorably altered”
By doing list challenges on listchalleges.com, I have encountered 1001 Books You must Read Before You Die. This made me realize how lacking far I am from becoming a well read person because I have neither read nor encountered most of the books and authors listed. Thence, I have began my journey of purchasing and reading the books that are considered “must read before you die”.
Among the books that I have encountered on this 1001 books list and other must-read lists is E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. By virtue of doing these list challenges, I have read some of his works, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room With A View. Although both books were highly-acclaimed, I barely appreciated either one, causing me to be apprehensive about buying A Passage to India. But my curiosity got the best of me and I ended up buying a copy of this book from an online seller. I didn’t have an iota on what the book was all when I bought it but I made it part of my 2017 Top 20 Books To Read.
I expected this book to be similar to Salman Rushdie who magically portrays India through his works. Due to its vastness, India is riddled with magical and fantastic stories that is enough to satisfy the literary curiosity of readers. However, A Passage To India proved to be different from my expectation. It made me taste a different flavor of India, one that I have yet to taste.
Set in British India, the story began with the arrival of Mrs. Moore in Chandrapore, India where his son, Ronny is the magistrate. She has come to oversee the arrangements for her son’s betrothal to Ms. Adela Quested, born of humbler origins. One evening, while wandering on a mosque, Mrs. Moore encountered Dr. Aziz, a young Moslem doctor, who castigated her because he thought that she didn’t remove her shoes before entering the mosque. He later realized that she did take her shoes off and apologized.
Motivated by his new found acquaintance in Mrs. Moore and blinded by his desire to be accepted, Dr. Aziz sought friendship with the other Brits, most specifically Cecil Fielding. However, he kept clear of Ms. Quested who is described as plain and naive. Ms. Quested reciprocated his lukewarm reception and treated him offhandedly. Their first encounters were uneventful until Dr. Aziz invited Mrs. Moore and her company to the nearby Marabar Caves.
Because of their curiosity and their quest for “a passage to India”, Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested acceded to his offer. This innocent conquest into the wilderness of the Indian subcontinent would set-off events that would tangle the fates of Fielding, Dr. Aziz, Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested. These events would also put a microscope on the current reality of British India.
The story is divided into three parts – the Mosque, the Caves and the Temple. The pace at first was relatively slow and dull but laid the foundation to the overall structure of the story. It dealt mostly with the daily activities in Chandrapore and the perceptions of the citizens. However, the pace picked up on the second part as the the Marabar Cave adventure turned into a catastrophic one.
Undoubtedly, the biggest themes in the story are discrimination, racism and colonialism. These themes were played to a maximum effect by Forster, especially with the unfolding of the events at the Marabar caves. Due to the allegations of Ms. Quested, Dr. Aziz was arrested. To add more insult to the injury, his personal belongings were scrutinized seized and his personal life was scrutinized. The Brits, with the exception of Fielding, overwhelmingly backed Ms. Quested albeit the lack of any solid evidence that will prove her allegations. The Indians on the other hand, once divided by religion, showed a united front against their oppressors.
Even before the events at the cave, the racial tension that is prevalent on the daily lives of Hindus, Moslems, and Brits was already underscored in the first part of the story. An example of which is the British club that refused to take on any non-British members. This palpable discrimination is a glaring abyss which the Brits shamelessly never tried to address. Indians, left with no options, were forced to tolerate this oppression. Forster artistically painted a picture of British India that makes one feel bad for the degradation of the Indians were subjected to.
In their own homeland, the Indians were treated like second class citizens. The conquerors have clearly set themselves apart from their subjects. The situation was so dire that some Indians became servile and acted out as spies for the Brits. At numerous points in the story, the Indians were very critical of their own and they tend to be more cautious in the presence of those who they suspect as spies.
Although the book dealt mainly with racial discrimination, the book was also about finding one’s self as portrayed through both Dr. Aziz and Ms. Quested. Their fates converged in an unexpected turn of events, their paths eventually parted towards opposing directions. After the discrimination he was subjected to, Dr. Aziz finally felt at peace with himself. “I am an Indian at last,” he said.
Aside from the interesting plot, Forster’s writing style was impeccable. He slyly slowed down the pace to take the readers through the motions. This gives the readers an insight on the events that unfolded. However, I have to fault him for the incredibly long paragraphs that made the story a bit dull and boring. Other than that, everything in the story flowed well and formed a tightly knit narrative.
A Passage To India is a well-written depiction of India’s history. It did well in evoking emotions from the readers. Although it was successful in underlining the issues it intended to highlight, it lacked in giving perspective about the character’s motivation and personalities. This made them distant and disconnected from the readers. It was only Fielding that I felt a real understanding of. I also personally felt that the romantic angles of the story were superficial at best.
Overall, Forster did himself justice with this book in spite of the negative criticisms he got after his book was published. His indignant stance didn’t sit well with his countrymen. However, years later, after India has been liberated, this particular work of Forster towers above all his works. It is an enduring and remarkable testament to his brilliance as a writer. I have to tip my hat off to E.M. Forster for weaving a great tale. No matter what I, or anyone for that matter, will say, this book will endure more years until discrimination and imperialism are purged from society. But even then, this book will still stand the test of time because it is truly a classic.
Rating: 4 Stars
I recommend this book for those who love reading about India’s colorful history. Readers of classical books will also love this, especially those who are into English literature.
About the Author
Edward Morgan Forster, or more popularly known as E.M. Forster, was born on January 1, 1879 in London. Originally named Henry Morgan Forster, he was accidentally named Edward Morgan Forster on his baptism, the same name as his father. To avoid confusion between the two Morgan men, the younger one was called “Morgan”.
An inheritance of £8,000 from his paternal great-aunt has basically ensured his future as a writer. He attended King’s College in Cambridge, where he became a member of the secret discussion group Apostles, where the members discuss their works on philosophical and moral questions.
Post-university, Forster lived and traveled abroad in Greece, Italy, Egypt, and India. During the first world war, he volunteered for the International Red Cross and served in Alexandria, Egypt. After this stint, he went to India, serving as the private secretary of Tukojirao III, the Maharajah of Dewas. He then returned to England where he devoted his time to writing and lecturing.
Where Angels Fear to Tread, the first of his six novels, was published in 1905, shortly followed by The Longest Journey (1907) and A Room With A View (1908). Howards’ End, his fourth work was published in 1910. However, it was with his fifth work, A Passage to India that Forster tasted his greatest success. He won James Tait Black Memorial Prize for this work. His last work, Maurice, was published posthumously in 1971.