Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Turn of the Century Salon: Passage to India

There is nothing quite like discovering a new author and I have greatly enjoyed reading E.M. Forster's "A Passage to India". I never read anything he wrote before, but have seen almost all the film adaptations of Forster's novels, with the exception of A Passage to India. This was one reason why I chose to read this, but also because over the last two years or so, I developed an interest in the British Raj. I have a roleplaying character who used to be a soldier in the British Army and has lived in India for twentyfive years, so I did some research and I found myself fascinated by India (fuelled by other novels I read, like For the Win) and by the British Raj in particular.

A Passage to India follows a young English woman, Miss Quested, who has come to the city of Chandrapore in India to marry and who wishes to see the real India, not just the India presented by the British she meets, always seen from a distance and with a good dose of contempt. So when the Indian physician Dr. Aziz arranged an outing to some caves for her, she is eager to accept. But something happens to her in those caves and she accuses Dr Aziz of assaulting her, creating an uproar in the never very stable community of Chandrapore.

The book is kind to no-one. Not to Dr. Aziz or Miss Quested. Not to the Indians, Muslims or Hindus.. And most certainly not to the British who rule India with so much arrogance and self-delusion. It presents a very bleak view of the British Raj and of different cultures living together in general. It's certainly not free of stereotypes, for all the different groups, and at times that bothered me. The story isn't built on those stereotypes, though, and that's why they don't harm the book as much as they could have.

It's a great book despite that fault, a study of colonialism and of prejudice and how it destroys lives. It's best when it concentrates on it's main characters and their inner life and when it describes the country through their eyes. Forster writes a very elegant style that captures the imagination. I'm looking forward to read more of his books.

2. book for the Turn of the Century Salon
Reviews 2013

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