6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2009
This beautifully crafted book is a materpiece in its exploration and mockery of colonial India. Both the narrative and the story itself, subtly expose the hypocrisy and endemic racism of the Imperialist British and the profound and long term effect on both the Indian people and the colonising British. It is the tale of an accusation, probably false - but left unresolved, which reveals both the fragility and depth of relationships between the British and each other, the Indians and the British, and between men and women. Habitual sexism and racism, and the desire to overcome them, resonate through the unfolding story, told through the differing voices of the many characters involved.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2013
This deeply complex, densely packed, microcosmic epic of a novel is elusive and profound and in the end perhaps self-defeating. How can Forster encapsulate what he admits is indescribable? How will the reader ever understand what he says is ungraspable by the human mind?
The story of a Passage to India is the least of its substance and is quickly told. Adela Quested arrives in India along with her prospective mother-in law Mrs Moore, to see whether a brief and lack-lustre attraction she and Mrs Moore's son Ronny felt in Grasmere might translate to marriage to him in Chandrapore, where he is the City Magistrate. But the insufferable Anglo-Indians, whose community she would have to join, the kind but unreliable Indians with whom she will never be able to strike up a meaningful relationship and India itself combine to render the prospect untenable, even if she loved Ronny. Then a mysterious experience in a cave unhinges Miss Quested, and her passage to India is at an end.
It is more interesting to consider the aspects of the novel which both add to its complexity and provide its substance. As her name suggests, Adela is on a quest, to see `the real India', to understand it. It is a cerebral pursuit; only a matter, she thinks, of going there and looking about. The impossibility of such a task is the main thrust of Forster's novel. India is too vast, too varied, too old; a melting pot of culture and religions, a hugely diverse geography of mountains and plains and forested hillsides, a seething mass of multitudes. India cannot be `seen' by the human eye nor, it is powerfully suggested, understood by the human mind.
Yet, while emphasising its immensity, the writer also manages to convey its minuteness. Scenes are repeatedly placed within a larger context, a man on the neatly-tended veranda of the club, the club against the sprawling city, the city against the backdrop of mountains, the mountains against the `overarching' sky, the sky itself against the incalculable firmament. This dichotomy results in `muddle' and `mystery'; India is an enigma.
The diversity of Indian society adds to its complexity. The intricate differences between Indians of different races, castes and beliefs create a minefield, as well as the delicate mores which must be observed if social relationships between Indians and the British are to be pursued. The unfathomable Indian compulsion to tell a polite and sincere lie rather than an unpalatable truth muddies conversational waters at every turn. Add to this the ridiculous British impulse to force India into a neatly labelled box, to behave as though still in Blighty. But the gaggling chaos of the bazaar, the ramshackle, fly-blown bungalows of the populace, even the well-to-do residences of rich Indians, where guests are frequently tardy and dinner is always late, will never be regulated into the regimented rows of bungalows of the Civil Station. India is ungraspable, a live thing, many-hued, exotic and infuriating by turn.
The failure of the British in India to appreciate these facts results in incidents which are, on one level, high comedy, on others, deeply shameful. The officious Surgeon General, the pompous Collector, the whole entourage of petty officials and their bigoted wives congregate at the Club (where no Indian is permitted unless he carries a tray of drinks) to decry India and Indians; they chafe and pontificate within their ludicrously inappropriate evening dress as India shifts and changes and defies categorisation.
Amid this atmosphere of vastness and littleness and difference, the characters are constantly engaged in attempts to make connections. In a series of set-pieces, like formal dances, Forster tries to make meaningful links; between British and Indian, Hindu and Muslim, man and woman, man and man, but no two souls are a neat enough fit and even birds of a feather fall out in the end. No one has a wide enough vision or a big enough heart, or, if they have it one moment, it has changed into something else the next. Mrs Moore and the hapless Dr Aziz manage a fleeting spiritual accord, and the strength of it arms Aziz for the ordeal to come, but then India's immeasurable depth swallows Mrs Moore's faith, and she slips from Aziz' grasp.
It would be easy to despair, in this mutable and somewhat nihilistic universe, where `everything exists but nothing has value' and where communication, Man's most precious resource, is reduced at last to an empty, meaningless echo. But Forster's mantra throughout the novel is a double helix of hope. As the tiny earth spins into the infinite universe, as the enormity of our own personal India engulfs us, as friends disappoint and loved ones leave, `goodwill, goodwill and more goodwill' and `kindness, kindness and more kindness' is both our bond and our blessing.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2006
A Passage to India by E.M Forster is a story about the British Commonwealth. As you know and may have learned from history, Britain ruled India for 200 years, until independence was declared in India from August 15th 1947. The novel is a historical journey when British imperalism in India was present and reflects how life was like within the raj period. Forster protrays an accurate and vivid picuture in the minds of the reader of about life in India.
The main plot of the story is about a young British girl (Adela) who wants to escape from the brutality and prejudice behaviour surrounding the British community to explore and gain authentic experience of India. He meets a well respected doctor (Dr Aziz) who is later involved in a scandal, which results into conflicts amongst British and Indian communities. The story is a historical flavour of life in India those days and how British rule affected Indian society. That is the general gist of the story.
A Passage to India is an interesting and excellent piece of British Commonwealth history. If you have a strong passion for history, I recommend you read the novel before watching the movie.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 2001
I read this book as it was recommended to me by a friend. Usually, if he hates a book, I am almost certain to love it.....so I gave this a try.
Having finished this book, I gotta say, I was soooo shocked by my friend's dismissiveness of this book! His criticisms were many: He found the narrative style rather inconsequential and obscure. He thought the plot was practically non-existant and poorly constructed and that Forster didn't explore sufficiently the consequences of the caves incident on Anglo-Indian relaions.
I quite disagree with him on nearly all of these aspects.
This novel is spiritually motivated NOT political, as the synopsis above suggests. Admittedly, to some extent it's the study of the ultimate divisions between different races- English vs. Indians in general, Hindus vs. Muslims etc.
BUT to a greater extent, it is a study of the strength and will of the Indian earth. The Indian earth is personified throughout this novel to enforce that SHE is the essential idea behind this novel. This is where the narrative structure is important....the cyclical motifs which permeate the novel, i.e. "mosque, caves, mosque, caves....is the cycle to start again?" along with the idea of the cycle of nature (created by the description of the sky in the first and last chapters) act as subliminal indicators to re-enforce the dominance of the Indian earth over all that happens.
This is why we never find out what actually did happen to Adela and Mrs. Moore during the caves incident; It doesn't matter. What matters is that both these women suffered a spiritual assault at the hands of the Indian earth in the Marabar caves. Both women's need to to pin down, name and label every aspect of India catches them off guard. As Forster's authorial voice tells us repeatedly throughout the novel, India has "a hundred voices". India is a "mystery and a muddle". She is full of paradoxes, contradictions and mysteries which could never be labelled or understood by anyone. On going into the caves, both women see that India cannot be generalised or her mysteries solved. This assaults Adela's sense of logic and Mrs. Moore loses her faith in the all controlling Christian God as she realises that India pre-dates this God. As a result, both women come out defeated.
In fact, the very fact that what happened remains a mystery is cenntral to re-inforcing the idea that we can never pin down or explain the Indian earth. She is a mystery!
In the end, it is not the political divisions between the English and Indians which prevent Aziz and Fielding from being friends, it is ultimately the Indian earth which stands in their way:
"the earth didn't want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file". This is the idea with which this novel ends, thereby highlighting it's importance: It is the Indian earth who gets the last word.
Therefore, this novel is not merely about politics. It is a complex and well stitched novel that uses well chosen themes, ideas and motifs to re-iterate what is essentially important: India.
Although this book is immensely satisfying to understand and to appreciate, I must warn you that it is also very difficult to do so! Without first understanding fully the ideas I've written about briefly, it may seem very obscure and inconsequential to read. I can only recommend it to people who are in for a challenge!!
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An elegant evocation of British India and the racial tensions which divide the colonizer from the colonised. Miss Quested, a young English woman in India for the first time, suggests that she may have been attacked by an ingratiating India during an outing laid on to please her. Amid the outpouring of racial distrust which her accusation sparks, the voices of reason and sense, and even her own doubts as to what actually happened, are completely lost. An Englishman becomes an outcast from his own for speaking in defence of an India and a kindly woman is rejected by her family for of speaking her truth rather than that of the British Raj. The events that follow, demonstrate Forster's view of the impossibility of friendships across racial divides; of unifying India as a single nation and of the duration of the British Raj.
Forster brings his own perspective to 'the India question; and is deeply critical of the British position. But this is not a one sided novel: it exposes uncomfortable truthes regarding India as much as it does uncomfortable truthes of Empire and Oppression.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2007
I picked this book out of a list of hundreds for an AP Literature class partly because if had a lot of references on the AP test: I'm so glad I did.
One thing a lot of people don't know about A Passage to India is how connected E.M. Forster is to this novel. His best friend was a young Indian named Syed Masood, he traveled to India twice, actually worked there for a while, and first hand witnessed many discriminatory acts which inspired the situations in the book.
The book's basically about Adela Quested and her expected to soon be mother in law Mrs. Moore who travel to Chandrapore India to visit Mrs. Moore's son Ronny Heaslop. THe women stay social amongst their fellow English colonists however they long for a look at the real, behind the scenes India. One night Mrs. Moore meets a young Indian man named Dr. Aziz who then meets Adela and another Englishmen named Cyril Fielding through a lunch party. The three hit it off so well at lunch that Aziz plans a trip for them to travel to the infamous Marabar Caves. However while visiting the caves Adela makes an accusation against Dr. Aziz which leads to a trial and an intense look into the British and Indian relationships that only Forster could provide. The book is very well written, he definatly knows what he's talking about and Forster makes you fall in love with his characters. Definatly worth reading!