A Passage to India by E.M. Forster was the book we read in my local book club this month. E.M. Forster is an incredible writer, the story line was compelling, the characters were well developed, the commentary was interesting, and the setting was descriptive. So why did I feel comforted in the fact that everyone else in my book club also slugged through it? You know that saying, too much of a good thing? I think that may have just been the problem. Because I must confess this was a really hard book for me to get through.
“A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.”
The characters were given back stories and motivation for their actions and really well developed. However, the book was written from the point of view of, well everyone. While I found it fascinating and somewhat necessary to the commentary to get everyone’s inner most thoughts (including the random mooch of a relative you met a handful of times). I found I would be sentences in before I realized I was now in a different characters head. I’d have to go back and read the last few sentences from that point of view. The one thing that helped with that was Forster did an incredible job of shifting his writing to fit the personalities of the people. That’s usually what tipped me off, oh the writing it faster and jumpy, we must be in Aziz’s thoughts now. And though compelling it made the reading more like work than enjoyment.
Forster was incredibly descriptive and I felt like I could literally feel the heat and dirt of India, and then he kept going, and going, and I was so distracted by the scenery that I totally lost tract of the plot. Which was hard enough to follow on it’s own.
Getting in the minds of all the players involved in such a volatile time in India gave you social, political, racial, gender, economic, religious…and so many other underlying commentaries that it was at times thought provoking and at times, a little overwhelming. But now that I think about it, maybe that was the point. Maybe that was Forster’s intent. What else are you going to get when you put people from so many different points of view and background in one plot, but an uphill battle.
I appreciate that it helps us see that we are all unique. Not all Indian’s are Muslims, not all British were there to impose. Not all women are helpless, not all poor people are criminals. We use generalizations far too often that are usually never accurate. I’m glad the phrase in the book, “If only they were all like that” isn’t true. I’m glad we’re all different and I hope next time I encounter someone I’m preconceived to assume is one thing, I’ll get to know them first.