‘A Passage to India’ is the story of an Indian doctor wrongly accused of sexual assault during Britain’s occupation of his homeland. The book definitely reinforces the idea that reading is a form of escapism, as it is fascinating for Western readers to hear tales of a culture so different from our own. Reading the book almost feels like receiving a free holiday! Despite its setting the book also manages to be very ‘British’ whilst simply ambling along to a pleasant conclusion. I’d definitely recommend ‘A Passage to India’ to Western readers, although I’m not sure those in the East who already know about India’s culture would find the book as interesting.
I took to the book’s protagonist Dr Aziz straight away because, like the book as a whole, he is simply likeable and inoffensive. A big part of the novel’s plot is the way the British managed to make Indians feel oppressed in their own country, and one can’t help but have sympathy for Aziz and his peers. What’s further endearing is the way Aziz tries, often naively, to see the good in everyone. He remains unaware that the British often mock him. Once the allegations are made against him it is easy to have a great deal of sympathy for the undeserving character. I further liked his British friend Fielding, who one gets the sense Forster has deliberately included to ensure at least one likeable Brit is present. The main reason Fielding is so likeable is that he sees Aziz as his equal- not simply a ‘Native’. As an Atheist I appreciated his stance on religion too.
In contrast, I disliked Adela almost immediately. The first thing about her I noticed was the way she patronised Indians. Whilst this was irritating to read, it was nothing compared to her realisation that she had actually accused the wrong man. She then failed to share this realisation with the court until the trial had already began and her British friends had already assumed Aziz (who had been refused bail) was guilty. The fact the English population was certain of Aziz’ guilt and the Indains were certain of his innocence is a shining example of the divide round which the novel revolves. Readers will be happy when Adela withdraws her charges despite feeling she could have done so much earlier. One of my only criticisms of the book’s plot is that said withdrawal could have been made much more dramatic. The only time I felt any degree of sympathy for Adela was after she had acknowledged her mistake. This can be attributed to the beauty with which Forster describes his characters’ emotions.
‘A Passage to India’ should definitely be seen as a warts-and-all look at Britain’s occupation of the country. Forster doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing the British in a bad light. Many of the British characters are depicted as bigots who simply enjoy finding flaws in Indian culture. This is emphasised to such a point that the book almost feels like a satirical look at the British ability to inforce the rules of society anywhere and in any situation. Another issue that is touched upon is the British assumption that our customs and beliefs are always superior. It is interesting to see how such traditional values compare with the Indian culture, although it could be argued that one aim of the book is to show, albeit by unusual means, that all humans are the same. An example of this is the way Indians have their own traditions and values which they rigorously follow.
In terms of plot, ‘A Passage to India’ happily ambles along. In the end, it satisfies its readers without ever being particularly sensational. The weakest part of the book is post-trial, as this is also the point when Fielding and Aziz have an inevitable dull fight before monotonously repenting. My main criticism of the book is that it could have been much more adventorous. In many ways it reminded me of a more timid and less shocking ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’; the morals are still there but other aspects of the story need improvement. That being said, the novel does still make you think about racism and whether what Britain did in India was fair. It is a very British story played against a beautifully described Indian background that proves to be a surprisingly quick read. My one piece of advice would be not to purchase the Kindle edition due to several odd mistakes.
Rating: **** (4/5)