About halfway through the month, I realized that I would go crazy if I didn’t make some changes to my reading goals. My personality is to do as much as humanly possible, but books were taking over my life. Between WWII and Read the World, I barely had enough time to squeeze in a classic and definitely not anything light and fun. So I made a few changes. I whittled down my minimum of ten books a month to seven, and decided that two had to be audiobooks (because I run everyday, so getting through a couple a month isn’t a trial—unless it’s 60 hours long).
Also—and this is where this book comes in—I decided that either I read only two books from my chosen country or find a monthly classic that could double as a RTW book. Long story short, I only have to physically read five books a month, leaving time for some fun YA novels that are just sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust, and silently accusing me of neglect.
So here we are with E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, both my classic and final India book of the month (or rather, last month).
This book follows a few years in the life of Aziz, a young Indian doctor, during the early 1900s (between the two world wars). He happens to meet an English woman in a mosque, and strikes up a friendship with her. Through Mrs. Moore (the English woman), he meets Adela Quested who had traveled to India with Mrs. Moore for the express purpose of deciding if she wanted to marry Mrs. Moore’s son, Ronny (a magistrate in Chandrapore).
Enter Mr. Fielding, a school principal and the rare English soul that doesn’t look down on the Indians like savages. He and Aziz become good friends.
The group goes on an outing the Marabar Caves, during which time something happens to Adela. She blames the incident on Aziz (who’s innocent), and it blows out of proportion involving arrests, courts, verdicts, racial tension, and riots.
The characters – The only person I really liked was Mr. Fielding. He seemed open-minded, fair, and compassionate to both Indians and the English.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the main protagonist, Aziz, or the only slighter less important Adela. They both had silly, stupid moments which makes them very human. I know that I’m being unfair when I say I don’t like these very well-rounded human characters because of their flaws. So I thought about it. How is it that I almost despise these two people?
The answer: The way Forster wrote them was so pessimistic, so small and petty, accentuating the negative and diminishing the positive, that I found it hard to embrace the small amount of good I saw. He didn’t write Cyril Fielding that way, and I wonder why. To be fair, the characters improved towards the end of the book. They made hard choices, chose bravery, and decided to forgive.
The plot – I thought the story was a bit boring really. Almost nihilistic, as if there was no meaning to it. I know that’s not the case. I know that Forster was painting a picture of the racial tension between the English and Indians—a picture, I might point out, that didn’t turn every Englishman into a villain and every Indian into a martyr (both races had their good and bad points)—but it just wasn’t a picture that really captured my imagination.
I know that there were deep, meaningful themes threaded through the prose. I know that there were beautifully lyrical passages. I know that Forster was trying to point out the inability of two people from different worlds to have an equal friendship when one race is subjugating the other. I just couldn’t rouse myself to really care.
So there you have it. I must be uncouth and unlearned not to appreciate this book. There were beautiful parts, but it didn’t touch my soul. However, it might touch yours.