Book Review: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

4 May

Genre: General fiction

Publisher: BBC WW

Pub date:1 October 2009

Source: Personal copy

Narrator: Sam Dastor

Format: Audiobook (unabridged)

Length: 11 hours 3 minutes

E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India has been on one of my must-read lists for the longest time for obvious reasons. So when I came across an audiobook version of it, I jumped at the chance to read/listen.

Synopsis

Set in British India in the 1920s, the story examines the clash of races and cultures. When a young English lady, Miss Quested, accuses an Indian man Dr. Aziz of having assaulted her in the Marabar caves, the city finds itself divided between the Indians and the British. Aziz maintains his innocence and Adela is so traumatized by the incident that she’s not very clear about what happened in the dark caves.

Review

Set at a time when the end of British rule in India was looking imminent, A Passage to India deals with the difficulties of friendship between the ruling class and the subjugated.

It also examines the difficulty that outsiders face in understanding India and her people. The sahebs – the ones who have just arrived and those who have been living in India for a long time all desperately try to create “home” in an alien land. The frustration they feel is in large part due to cultural differences. The need of the Indian to be polite and accommodating to anyone who is considered a guest is is such that a direct “No” is never an option. This leads to misunderstandings and frustrations.

India by itself is divided along lines of religions and caste. It is a climate when two Indians of different religions find it difficult to become friends. (I have to say I’m not sure that this generalization should be taken too seriously)

But both Mrs Moore and Adela Quested want to see and experience the real India. (Adela is engaged to the city magistrate, Ronny Heaslop, Mrs. Moore’s son)

Forster examines the concept of friendship – between Indians, between men and women, between Indians and Britishers. And asks if friendship is possible between ruler and the subjugated.

Aziz is a respected doctor and well-liked young man. Rather idealistic, he gets attached to Mrs Moore and wants to do his best to be nice to her. When Adela and Mrs Moore express a wish to see India, Aziz offers to take them to see the Marabar caves. A widower with 3 children, he finds a great connection with Mrs Moore who also has 3 children. Even though he meets her only two or three times, he believes that they have a great connection and considers her a very good friend.

Once Adela makes her accusation, the political climate in Chandrapore changes completely and the entire town is divided. Aziz maintains his innocence and my sympathies lay with him completely for I was convinced of his innocence. But the entire British population rises up in anger that one of their own has been harmed. Mr Fielding, the headmaster of the college is the only one who believes Aziz and risks his reputation to see justice done.

So what really happened in those caves? Is Aziz really innocent? And how will this accusation affect him and the people of Chandrapore? How do friendships get affected by this incident? Forster deftly navigates the politics and friendships in this difficult situation.

The audiobook: I chose to listen to this book in audio format. I felt that the heaviness of the subject will be better consumed in this form and I was right. The narrator did a wonderful job with the different accents. He managed to create the characters from the style of speech so well that at no point did I have any confusion about who was speaking. This was brilliantly produced and I suspect contributed in large part to my enjoyment of the book.

Verdict

Highly recommended. Anyone with an interest in Indian history or a study of cultures will find it a brilliant read. I also highly recommend the audiobook and the narrator Sam Dastor.

Rating: 4.75*

*See my Rating policy

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9 Responses to “Book Review: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster”

  1. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting May 4, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    This is the second excellent review I’ve read of this book (the other was over at BookToTheFuture), and I’m definitely inspired to pick up a copy now. I’m also on an audio classics binge, and I’m finding the medium makes it far easier to get through some works that are considerably tougher on the page.

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. 🙂

    • stargazerpuj May 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      Thank you! Glad you found it useful.

      I’m definitely going to tackle some of these literary heavyweights on audio. Easier to tackle and I find that I appreciate the language more!

      (And now you’ve given me one more blog to follow!) 🙂

  2. bookspersonally May 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    I remember this story perhaps more from the movie than the book, but remember both being very thought provoking – enjoyed your review and take on it!

    • stargazerpuj May 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

      I haven’t seen this movie. Maybe I will, but not anytime soon. Listening to the audiobook is really close to watching it as a movie!

  3. Dharmesh December 26, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

    I’m not a fan of audio books in general but your review makes me want to pick it even though I have read it. 🙂
    I have reviewed the book at my blog. If you get time please visit. I’d be honoured to know what you think.

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