Seeking to fill some gaps in my literary education, I was referred to Forster's _A Passage to India_. It is a marvelous: beautifully written, and ahead of its time. Set in India at the zenith of British colonialism there, the fortunes of three Britons and an Indian cross. Miss Quested, a newcomer, wishes to see "the real India" in spite of her countrymen's disapproval. Taken, along with Mrs. Moore (also a new arrival) and Mr. Fielding by their Indian guide, Dr. Aziz, an incident occurs in the Marabar Caves that is never very clear; whatever happened (or did not), Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of sexual assault.
The heart of the story isn't the accusation, nor its resolution. Rather, it is the subtle layers of misunderstandings, miscues and mistrust between Indian and Englishman, and even between Hindu and Muslim in India. The nuance and perspective Forster provides is simply sublime - the arrogance of the imperialist British, the anger and bitterness by Hindu and Muslim towards their occupier, and the mututal mistrust between Indian Muslims and Hindus is brilliantly illustrated. That what precisely happened in the caves is never wholly resolved allows the reader to insert themselves (and their respective prejudices and perspectives) into the story.
What particularly resonated with me (beyond the marvelous prose and variety of honest perspective through his characters) was how far ahead of his time Forster was. At the close of the book, Aziz - a western-educated physician (and therefore a "safe" Indian in the eyes of the British prior to the accusation against him) has a conversation with Fielding, his erstwhile friend, in which Aziz remarks, "Until England is in difficulties, we will keep silent, but in the next European war - aha, aha! Then is our time! ... India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one! Hurrah! Hurrah for India! ... and then (half kissing Fielding) you and I shall be friends." This, written in 1924 - almost a full generation before India's independence. But it is not only Forster's prediction eerie, but his unabashed anti-imperialist voice suprised me.
This book rightfully belongs among the century's greatest works for the skill and beauty of the author's way with words as for his sentiments. Highly recommended.