Book Reviews
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Friendship Over – A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

A Passage to India is a novel that explores the tension between the local Indians and the British colonizers. The novel begins with Adela Quested traveling to India to experience the culture of the country. Things go awry when Adela accuses Dr. Aziz, a young Indian doctor, of a crime that he didn’t even attempt to do. The doctor, who is already embittered by the treatment of the British towards the Indians, is further pitted in the horrors of racism as the trial ensues. Will the truth come out, and will Dr. Aziz be judged based on the racial prejudices that the accusation brings up?


I have put this write-up on hold for a long time because I believe I may have misread this. Two years ago, I took a new job while I was still rendering my resignation notice period. For a couple of weeks, I juggled between two full-time jobs while reading this with one of my friends. Just imagine the state of my mind and body at that time, me trying to finish all the tasks at the old company and me trying to adjust and impress at the new one.

Perhaps it was read at a wrong time, but I would also insist that I would not want to read this again despite its inclusions to major Top 100 lists. Yes, it is an indisputable classic. What it says is something that should not be forgotten, but it just did not appeal to me. I found the writing just okay; I found it quite tedious. Its theme on colonialism is something that I’m very familiar with; it’s not so refreshing after having spent all my life in a country that was colonized by the Spanish for three centuries, the Americans for half a decade, and the Japanese for a short three years.

I never questioned the possibility of friendships with the three nations. In fact, I used to wish that the Philippines were a colony of the U.S. just so Filipinos could have an easier entry to the country. But really, what difference would it make? There are too many Filipino immigrants in the U.S. anyway; I might have been a U.S. citizen myself by now if changes weren’t made in the filing of F1 immigrant visa petitions.

And I digress. I mention the possibility of friendship among nations because the novel is framed on it. Dr. Aziz is scornful towards the British because of the mistreatment that he believes is given to him. He thinks that the British cannot effectively govern India if the locals continue receiving such treatment and if the British do not treat Indians as friends.

But they were friends, brothers. That part was settled, their compact had been subscribed by the photograph, they trusted one another, affection had triumphed for once in a way. He dropped off to sleep amid the happier memories of the last two hours–poetry of Ghalib, female grace, good old Hamidullah, good Fielding, his honoured wife and dear boys. He passed into a region where these joys had no enemies but bloomed harmoniously in an eternal garden, or ran down watershoots of ribbed marble, or rose into domes whereunder were inscribed, black against white, the ninety-nine attributes of God.

At the early parts of the novel, Dr. Aziz is friends with the British Cyril Fielding until the former is tried for the accusation made by Adela. Their friendship is not actually ruptured by themselves; their respective races contributed greatly to this falling apart. Although Fielding believes in Dr. Aziz’s innocence, the British people stereotyped him as a traitor. The growing rage in Dr. Aziz would not allow Fielding to penetrate his wall of bitterness, not to mention that the former has also become a little too paranoid and suspicious of the latter.

[Suspicion and belief could in his mind exist side by side. They sprang from different sources, and need never intermingle. Suspicion in the Oriental is a sort of malignant tumour, a mental malady, that makes him self-conscious and unfriendly suddenly; he trusts and mistrusts at the same time in a way the Westerner cannot comprehend. It is his demon, as the Westerner’s is hypocrisy.]

Dr. Aziz’s thinking is another problem that I have in the novel. He doesn’t feel like a believable educated character. He’s a doctor, yes, and perhaps I had a wrong image of him as a doctor. I imagine doctors to have a formidable temperament. I don’t think they’d become doctors if they are weaklings, unless one is a quack. And that’s what I thought of him: not so much a quack as a weakling.

I have to be fair. His fortitude is tested by the trial, one that is not merely a battle for Dr. Aziz’s innocence but a tense crapshoot between the British and the Indians. One can plow through the text, which never failed to make me go back and forth, to find the outcome, but what’s more important is whether Dr. Aziz and Fielding can still be friends. Sounds like a teeny-bopper thing, but whoever said that adults can’t have issues such as this?

[But the horses didn’t want it–they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”]

I would’ve at least liked this if it weren’t for that Adela Quested. One can’t help thinking about the following things: did she plan everything just so she could get attention, is there a loose nut in her head, is she plainly delusional? Argh. That woman! She earned a pretty good spot in my mental list of annoying literary characters.

In this respect, Forster did a good job in making a fierce satire of the self-important Englishwoman, but Forster, why did you hesitate in writing about Great Britain letting go of India as a country of her own? He was criticized for this, and did he think that friendship is better than independence? Is that enough?

It’s been so long that I don’t want to ask further questions anymore.


Dates Read: June 8 to July 22, 2011

No. of Pages: 322

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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7 Comments

  1. it’s an odd book as I discovered when I had to write an essay about it at university. Even after decades have passed I still remember one line from it – A mystery is only another word for a muddle and another phrase ‘Only Connect. The latter, I have learned since is one of the key ideas of the book. so something obviously stuck in my little grey cells

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    • Sometimes, I wish I just dropped the book and just restarted it at a more convenient time. I always finish my books, but I rarely reread them, and I only reread favorite books. Obviously, this isn’t one of them.

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  2. I don’t know what it was about this novel that I just didn’t like. It was well-written, the topic, per se, was relevant (at the time, I guess), and was intriguing enough, but the story just didn’t compel me to feel anything other than boredom :( And I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with E.M. Forster as a writer since I really enjoyed A Room With A View. I really don’t know what it was about A Passage to India that made me not like it very much.

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    • Well, I don’t think a lot of people liked it. My reading buddy hated it, hahaha. I have yet to read A Room with a View and Howards End. I hope these two are better and I think I have a valid reason to hold on to that. I mean, Forster writes good. It’s just that A Passage, overall, is blah.

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  3. Like what I commented on your Facebook page: I don’t even want to get started on this book. To be crass about it, this was, overall, a crappy, crappy book. A couple of years after we read this, I still fail to find a redeeming factor.

    Pshaw.

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