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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 7 June 2012
A closely observed and tremendously atmospheric story of friendships, love and racism in British colonial India, exquisitely told - it is like reading lace.

Forster almost abandons plot and certainly abandons many of the conventions of novel writing in this, his last and some say greatest, novel. The central character is Aziz, a doctor of Indian birth working for the British. He meets a white woman - Mrs. Moore, newly arrived in India and it seems they fall in love. But Mrs. Moore's companion, Adele, accuses Aziz of assault, a charge that inflames tensions and personal relationships in the Chandrapore Township.

Mrs. Moore and Adele appear at first to be the centre of the book, but their characters fade away once Aziz is accused and instead it becomes clear that Forster is more interested in Aziz's friendship with Fielding - the British schoolmaster. He is the only white who believes that Aziz is innocent.

Forster beautifully captures the colours, sounds and spirit of India - he's obviously completely spellbound by India. His descriptions are more tender and subtle than Kipling's. Forster is just wonderful at capturing the cultural gulf between the two communities and between Hindus and Muslims. Tiny mannerisms, misunderstandings and different tastes are constantly explored and refined, often with a great deal of sly humour. India exists as a real person, there is a sense of history, beauty, spirituality and menace about the place, flies and snakes abound, cholera and disease is looked for, cars crash, carriages ride into hedges, boats capsize - danger is everywhere.

At the heart of this menace is the relationship between the British colonialists, who regard the Indians as inferior and believe that they are there for India's own good, and the Indians who can't make up their mind whether to fight each other or the British or to collaborate. With the impending trial of Aziz the atmosphere on both sides becomes murderous.

Ultimately this is a story about love and bigotry. Aziz and Mrs. Moore fall in love with hardly a word spoken, Adele finds herself incapable of loving either India or her fiancée, whilst Fielding and Aziz hate each other as oppressor and oppressed but also love like brothers.

If you are after plot and pace this may not be for you, but if you care about relationships and atmosphere, this is magical.
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on 3 November 2012
In a world far removed from the one in which Forster was writing, is there any place for a novel like A Passage to India other than as an idle curiosity of a bygone era? Written based on first hand experience of the British Raj, this open critique of colonialism caricatures the Anglo-Indian in his element, questioning the morality and justification of the British presence in the subcontinent.

A Passage to India is built upon its characters, who are the led through a fairly mundane plot, a jejune stage for the actors to perform upon. Yet through their actions, we discover this world of Empire, where Anglo-Indians hold themselves aloof from the population, where relationships are grounded on the basis of ruler and ruled. Forster challenges the British Raj as it was then. But he also poses questions relevant to our everyday lives: can the cultures of East and West ever truly understand one another? is it possible even for two individuals to truly understand one another? can anything good ever come from a relationship in which one party dominates the other? and what can we really understand about 'identity' through the prism of nationhood?

There is no doubt much in this book which can be analysed and overanalysed to the nauseating degree that only a literature class can provoke, and I can imagine that many who studied this novel in a classroom environment learned only to hate it. Where the simplicity of the plot provides only a thread for the characters to follow, the imagery of India's weather and terrain, her townships and cultural diversity, combine to provide symbolic tapestry lending itself to interpretation. Alone the echoes of the Marabar caves and its allegory in the evil of Empire doubtless provide enough discussion for a few hours of lessons. Yet there is no need to take a magnifying glass to this book to see its implications. Similarly, there has been plenty of criticism about using a work by an English author and mere traveller to the subcontinent as a lens through which to view the British Raj and colonialism in general. Whilst this may be for true scholarship a half-way justifiable charge, it retains its relevance as a novel and for providing insights into the British mindset of the time.

Finally, a quick comment about the style. Some other reviewers have complained that the book hasn't aged particularly well, and that the writing gets a bit muddled in conversation. On the former point, it would seem fair criticism, in as far as that this book clearly has more in common with books written in the half century prior to its publication than after it. That doesn't make the book's style particularly less readable today, but the content might need some occasional explanation.

Despite his modest assertion that he was 'not a great novelist', A Passage to India lives up to its reputation as one of the more important works related to British colonialism. Alone for its historical portrayal, the book is worth a read, but the questions posed (and the answers Forster subtly implies) with regard to issues of cultural identity, acceptance and understanding, are still as relevant today as they were at the height of the Raj.
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on 19 March 2014
For Goodness Sake why am I seemingly the only person who cant understand this chronically boring, relentlessly tedious pathetically meaningless tripe.HOW ON EARTH has this attempt at a novel ever become a classic? What exactly are we categorizing it in? Classic tedium perhaps? What a load of rubbish this book is, and like all of E M Forster's books (what does E M stand for, Extremely Monotonous, maybe?). I don't understand the plot and tire of the pathetic unrealistic characters. Who cares about a group of racist English boring women and about taxis in India? Yawn Yawn Yawn . Well Done, Mr Forster,you have written quite possibly the most boring book ever; or at least one of the top ten most boring books ever.
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on 17 March 1999
In this perhaps best novel by Forster, the reader is magnificently transported to the India of the British Raj by means of an acute sense of observation, humour, and understanding of both the Indian and British dilemmas. If you've been to India, you'll recognize it, if you haven't, here's a chance to meet it at its imperical zenith. It's a heart-warming novel, and the characters will stay with you for years. You may also enjoy it simply for the language, which Forster truly has in his power. I've read it four times, I've taught it and recommended to many different people, and I've never known anyone to be disappointed!
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on 2 August 2012
I love Forster. His works are at the same time a gentle slice of contemporary life and a sharp exposition of the psychological world his characters inhabit.

A Passage to India is set in the rural landscape during a time of British occupation. This is a (not necessarily damning) examination and critique of colonialism and offers a very wide view of the issues it raises. There are no heroics here. Aziz is the downtrodden 'native' character, apallingly abused, to whom my sympathies attached, and yet the hatred that surrounds him turns him to hatred and propels down a vengeful path towards a kind of destruction. Only his long-standing friendship with Mr. Fielding can save him, but Mr. Fielding is English, and Aziz must reconcile himself with this and conquer his own hatred.

The novel is set in a world of echoes. Hatred begets hatred, and historical abuses resound forever until something changes. There is racism in both the English and 'native' Indians and everything continuously feeds into the same old cycles.

Forster intersperses the narrative with incisive and beautiful sentences that give the reader no alternative but to put the book down and think for a moment; for example (on rational arguments against irrational ideas): "Outside the arch there seemed always an arch, beyond the remotest echo a silence."

I have given this four stars (and not five) because, whilst important and thought provoking, the narrative (whilst getting rather hot on a couple of occassions) never really catches fire like in some of Forster's other novels and the world we are introduced to is so alien to our 21st century minds that I found myself wishing there were more detailed descriptions.

This then, is a complex and anachronistic reading experience that is nevertheless brilliant and will stay with you for a long time. But if you're looking for something lighter and more enjoyable, then I would probably recommend choosing A Room with a View.

Dan Crawford
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on 7 January 2016
I give it three stars because the book is a mismatch of 5 stars chapters mixed up with one star chapters. Yet, the description of the Raj is savage and Forster knows his subject. The story line is weak. Would she marry or would she run away? Would he marry or would he not? The romance, what romance?, is all a matter of convenience. Forster is at his best when he exposes the lies of the social moor of the Victorian society. In that respect the book is worth reading, but the pace is slow and you can skip some of it without losing the plot …
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2009
Almost a century after the book's publication the most crucial problems it discussed are as current as they were during Forster's life. The impossibility of communicating across the divide of culture, religion, and race, seems to be even more alive then when he saw it. The value of the novel lies not so much in representing it but in the fact that Forster offers a way out - personal contact.
The story takes us to India of the 1920s - we follow the path of a young Englishwoman who goes to marry a British official but wants to know "the real India". This she never achieves but she gets to know something by far more important - herself. Her inept attempts at connecting with India and Indians make other characters of the novel learn more about themselves, force them out of safe shells in which they lived. The lesson is painful but at least for some of the characters opens the door to a better life.
There is little chance people will suddenly like Muslims, Pakistanis, gays, lesbians, Moroccans, Turkish, Kurds etc etc - there is a chance (a very slim chance, Forster would be quick to add) that a specific American and a specific Muslim, a Turk and a Kurd, an Israeli and a Palestinian can be friends. The world may not want it, the people that surround them may not want it but the results depend on us alone. If we do not try we only have ourselves to blame.
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on 5 June 2000
When I first picked up Forster's classic novel, I wasn't sure what to expect. As a modern, 21st century reader, a book about colonial India didn't seem particularly appealing. However, A Passage to India exceeded all my expectations. The characters were both believeable and convincing but what is most striking are Forster's descriptions of setting. He brings India to life so that we not only see what it was like to live there, we almost hear and smell it too! I know that Forster's book has its flaws and is not always completely accurate but it is still one of the most important novels concerning the conflict between rulers and natives around. Read it!
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on 15 October 2014
This is the story of the NE India between the World Wars in the 1920s i.e. before the split to Pakistan, putting down of some uprisings etc. It looks at the societies of the British Raj (elite and bureaucracy e.g. Mr Cyril Fielding the school principle) and the local Hindu and Muslim people (servants up to the main character Dr Aziz). The story establishes the foundations of how everyone gets on with each other and the melting pot of ideas, prejudices and animosities - then Miss Adela Quested arrives to "see" India en-route to be engaged to Mrs Moore's son Ronny (a local magistrate). Dr Aziz, a friend of both Mrs Moore and Cyril, trying to sort of keep-in with the ex-pat club offers to arrange a visit to the local attraction being a set of caves. An incident occurs between an isolated Adela and Aziz in a cave resulting in Aziz being arrested for a potential assault. How will each side react, who'll support who, what damage to relationships will occur?

The story is certainly a clever, deep, and sympathetic tale taking some real events and experiences and fashioning a symbolic representation of the Indian society of the time and where it will all end. It is classic English literature - the pivotal incident and immediate aftermath, which I initially thought could have been perhaps extended and expanded to greater length, is actually deliberately the dramatic, compact and startling "grit" at the centre of a much larger pearl of a novel.

The 1978 Penguin edition has an introduction, several original intro - one by Forster himself, a full set of notes by page number (annoying these aren't cross referenced in the text) and a glossary of terms.

Some quotes:

"I'd rather leave a thought behind than a child"

"Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work and social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend."

"Mohammedan ladies had sworn to take no food until the prisoner was acquitted; their death would make little difference, indeed, being invisible, they seemed dead already, nevertheless it was disquieting."

I did like this novel very much. I appreciated the drama and the well balanced final Part 3 being two years after the events. 4 Stars.
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VINE VOICEon 18 July 2003
As a British colonialist in India himself, Forster saw first hand the obstacles to friendship between the native Indian people and their political masters in the last days of the Raj. His study in racial and romantic tension is a beautiful work of sensitive literature at its best - it strives to understand and explore but isn't preachy or dogmatic. Forster's hero, the well meaning but ultimately inneffectual Fielding tries to break down barriers by cultivating a friendship with Dr Aziz but circumstances, prejudice and social, religious and political differences contrive to make this impossible. The British community and, by extension, the British Raj is portrayed as a stuffy, exclusive, snobbish Gentleman's Club with its strict moral codes and jingoistic traditions - populated by sad anonymous bureaucrats - the Turtons and the Burtons whose attempts try to preserve their quaint "civilised" English traditions, tea parties etc in a hostile climate are gently ridiculed. Fielding is an "outsider" - undoubtedly an anti-biographical portrait, who wants to get to know Indians on level terms, outside of the ruler-subject relationship. Forster shows that Indian society is multi layered, a rigid caste system with a mixture of social and religious tensions of its own - the Muslim and Hindu factions form an uneasy alliance under the yolk of the British Empire. As the climate gets hotter and the uncomfortable physical conditions mirror the political situation the novel explodes due to a horrendous and unfortunate misunderstanding which drives the two sides towards an edgy and violent confrontation. Forster's marvellous prose is wonderfully descriptive and the imagery introduces poetic and philosophic themes about the nature of Life and our place in the Universe - the very landscape becomes an important influence, or obstacle. If there is a simple message in the novel, it is that life isn't simple and if we want to live in harmony with other human beings we must try to lose our preconceptions and social conditioning and try to get to know each other. That could never happen in Forster's India or in this novel but it is an uplifting and deeply rewarding read every time.
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