A Passage To India

A Passage To India


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Susan Midalia's Review

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of one of E.M. Forster's most admired and ethically complex novels. Set in the 1920s during the time of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement, it remains as  thought-provoking and readable as when it was first published.

I first read A  Passage to India at the innocent age of 17, and what has stayed with me after decades is the scene in the (fictional) Marabar Caves.  The scene depicts the terrified response of a young English woman, Adela Quested: for her, the relentless echoes inside the cave become sinister and menacing. I didn't know the words existential void at the time, but this is what Adela, and I, encountered: the terrifying possibility that life has no meaning at all. In a state of panic, the young woman imagines she has been touched by an Indian acquaintance, Dr Aziz, who she then falsely accuses him of sexually assaulting her.

Since then, psychoanalytic and post-colonial readings have taught me that there's a lot more going on in that scene than an experience of the void. A white woman unconsciously desires a coloured man, then attempts to displace her forbidden feelings by reducing the man to a sexual predator. What happens after her false accusation is a politically troubling exploration of turbulent race relations in colonial India.

A Passage to India is also impelled by an English writer's abiding fascination with foreign cultures. India was the ideal country for a white writer like Forster - Cambridge educated, secularised and versed in western models of knowledge - to confront the values and beliefs of a profoundly spiritual culture. In the process, the novel asks: is India a mystery or a muddle? Can white people transcend cultural and racial boundaries, or are they destined to remain limited to and by a western outlook on the material world? Like all memorable works of fiction, A Passage to India leaves you reflecting on those important questions long after you've finished the book.

Publishers Review

When Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the 'real India', they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterly portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.