"A Passage to India"
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 1st August 2011E.M. Foster’s classic novel about the colonial English in India revolves around an incident involving an Indian doctor and an English woman visiting her fiance (a lawyer in the colonial establishment) that takes place during a picnic the doctor has arranged for the woman and her prospective mother-in-law at the remote Marabar Caves; before and after that we see into how the colonials and the natives regard themselves and each other, and how these contribute to the circumstances and subsequent events that follow it.
For me the novel seemed to be as much about what happens at the uneasy interface of two cultures that have been forced together, particularly when one sees itself as inherently superior to the other, and has the power to enforce that view. Foster has various characters positioned in different places relative to this interface, from the extremes (the colonialists who see the natives and their culture as irredeemably inferior; the Indians who object - arguably quite rightly - that the English are oppressors) to those who try to reach across the divide and form friendships that ultimately seemed doomed to flounder on the rocks of inequality and cultural misunderstandings.
This was the first time I've read any Foster, and I was surprised at how modern the writing in "A Passage to India" felt - both in terms of the language, and with how the English and the Indian characters are largely portrayed sympathetically, with their good intentions overshadowed by their cultures. It was also interesting to see Indian society itself not as a homogenous whole, but comprising of many different cultures, and that often the Indians could be as baffling to each other as them and the English. Highly recommended.