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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
A Passage to India
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 3 November 2017
It was me who suggested EM Forster to our book group, although I had only read one of his works (Howards End, nearly sixty years ago) and seen three movies of his books. Anyhow, we agreed on A Passage to India, and I'm glad we did.

First of all it is very well written. And perceptive. To the modern eye, the attitudes of the white rulers to the Indians seem quite shocking, an atmosphere of mutual hate, but remember, it was mirrored back in England in an exclusive class system (and exclusive means excluding people). There are similarities, too, with the Irish Ascendancy, as well as marked differences. Also it is interesting that the term Anglo-Indian is now used to refer to the mixed race community but
Forster calls them Eurasians and uses Anglo-Indian as he might have used Anglo-Irish.

Many tensions and dilemmas are apparent throughout: the place of the Indian nobility and the educated classes (not popular with the British community), and the Hindu-Muslim divide. And you have to wonder quite why the British were in
India at all. They didn't seem to like "this poisonous country" and I gather that it didn't bring great benefits either. Ah, "the white man's burden". Forster, of course, knew India but he views it, as a Cambridge-educated intellectual, as rather an outsider. This of course adds to the awkward mosaic.

My only criticism of the book, hence four stars, is that at the end it drifts a bit and becomes unduly prosaic. But that doesn't stop it being a classic, on a par with Maugham, and, unlike say Eric Linklater or Hugh Walpole, still in demand.

A final thought. It now seems fashionable to think that "British India" was mutually beneficial. Whether Forster or the characters in this book would have agreed is questionable.
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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 5 May 2016
Whilst the literary merit of this book shines through it is despite the Kindle edition rather than because of it. There are numerous typos in the text, sometimes as many as three on a page, which interrupt the flow of the reader and somewhat spoil the reading experience.
In a 'paid for' Kindle book this is unacceptable. The transcription particularly suffered with showing 'n' as 'ii'.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 July 2017
Is genuine friendship possible between Indians and the British under colonial rule? Spelt out at both beginning and end, this is the question underlying a novel which, although quite dated, with some arguably stereotyped characters, remains relevant for a vivid portrayal of India, helping us to understand its present state, and also for the exploration of complex human relationships.

Naïve and idealistic, Adela Quested, who has come to India to decide whether or not to marry the young City Magistrate Ronnie Heaslop, is desperate to see the “real” India (not just be fobbed off with elephants). She also dislikes the character traits her fiancé is beginning to display. “His self-complacency, his censoriousness, his lack of subtlety, all grew vivid beneath a tropical sky”.

Keen to please, although quite critical of his colonial masters “who take and do nothing”, Doctor Aziz offers to take Adela with her future mother-in-law, Mrs Moore, on an excursion to the caves in the Malabar Hills. This leads to a bizarre incident with far-reaching repercussions, symbolising the lack of understanding and ultimate gulf between the two groups, British and Indian. Confusion as to what really occurred in the Malabar Caves is inevitable since Forster himself admitted that his mind was a "blur" on the subject, but this does not really matter since it is not fundamental to the book.

Having observed first-hand the insensitivity and arrogance of British administrators and their wives, E.M. Forster is scathing in his portrayal of them. Despite his obvious empathy, the Indians are not spared either. Aziz is ashamed of his filthy lodgings, but fails to insist that his servants remove the flies, their excuse being there is no point since they will only return. Obsequious and self-absorbed, Professor Godbole’s spiritualty seems bogus, when he shows no sympathy for the plight of Aziz, perhaps falsely accused of a crime, but appears more concerned over the choice of name for the schools he plans to establish in his new post.

Laugh-out loud comedy tinged with poignancy is used very effectively to show the continual misunderstandings caused by cultural differences. Aziz impulsively insists on lending his collar stud to his new friend Fielding, only to be disparaged behind his back by Ronnie for the way “the worthy doctor’s collar climbed up his neck” because of his “inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race”. On the train to Malabar, Adela and Mrs Moore are surprised to see the butler emerging from the carriage toilet with poached eggs. More of these are planned for their arrival, together with mutton chops, since Aziz is under the impression that English people eat all the time, so will need substantial refreshment every two hours.

Places are not romanticised either as Forster writes of the squalor and “abased, monotonous mud”. Although mysterious when viewed from the city by twilight, even the Malabar Hills lose their appeal close at hand: “Bland and bald rose the precipices; bland and glutinous the sky….a Brahmany kite flapped with a clumsiness which seemed intentional”. In another incident, “A grassy slope bright with butterflies.. purple hills in the distance” sound pleasant, but there is a sting in the final phrase: “The scene was as park-like as England, but did not cease being queer”. In other words, the Anglo-Indians could not help judging the landscape by what was familiar to them.

Rereading the book, I was impressed by the originality of E.M. Forster’s approach. In his attempts to capture the atmosphere of the Malabar caves which created such confusion in Adela’s mind or the ceremonies at the Hindu temple in Mau, the tone become almost surreal. What sometimes seems like a patronising parody of the latter made me uneasy, but it is offset by the sense of mysticism which only a few of the British, like Mrs Moore or her children Ralph and Stella can begin to comprehend. It is interesting that none of these three is fully developed as a character, perhaps to maintain the mystical element. On somewhat shaky grounds, Mrs Moore becomes a revered symbol of wisdom, a kind of modern goddess in Indian memory, perhaps reflecting how this has happened through the ages.

What was to prove Forster’s last novel took years to complete, as he struggled to achieve what he wished to be his final masterpiece. Although I found many passages brilliant, his experimentation at times falls short, as in the use of a stilted turn of phrase (allowing for the fact that language has changed over a century), or when an important point is introduced too abruptly in a staccato sentence, creating a disjointed effect. Forster appears on the “cusp” of the early 1900s, as he switches from lapses into flowery “Oh reader!” Victorian-style passages to astute, sharp prose which could have been written now. Reaching its court-room climax two-thirds of the way through, the narrative seems to drift after that but on reaching the end I felt the construction of the story is quite effective and certainly stays in the mind breeding fresh thoughts long afterwards.
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on 16 September 2014
ahh i loved it. it was funny and ironic but also beautifully written, not in any 'purple' or ostentatious way but instead in a simple richness of imagery that really affects you. and behind all this there's a compelling plot too. definitely recommend it.
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on 18 August 2017
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on 29 March 2017
Good condition.
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on 2 November 2016
Of course I don't "hate it" it's one of the finest novels ever written but this edition is totally ruined by typos....one can't help assuming that it was created using some kind of scanning system and nobody bothered to proof read the results...how lazy and unprofessional is that!? For most of the book the word "he" becomes and remains "lie" for most of the book.....ridiculous. I soldiered on because I'd already got into it, but what a distraction! So easy to fix...why don't they do it? and Amazon, can't you have more influence in these matters...?
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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 20 September 2015
Received on time and good quality
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