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5.9.05

A Passage to India - E.M. Forster

This superb novel written in 1924 has a surprisingly modern feel to it and has been quoted as being the inspiration for Paul Scott's outstanding Raj Quartet. I was delighted to find it was a novel I could read now in the 21st century and is not at all dated - indeed I was surprised how far it went. Written in the 20's when the British Empire in India was very powerful and the Empire largely intact. It must have caused some ripples of concern and it did according to the Introduction in my Penguin copy written by Oliver Stallybrass. Critical indeed of the British ruling classes in India it challenges head on views on racism and class culture. The late Paul Scott felt this book laid the foundation in intellectual culture in Britain for the British Raj to be seen as morally and racially wrong whereas before the Raj was seen as a moral duty - god given right to rule India. The novel manages to get across several superb views yet never loses sight of the fact it is a novel and not a political treatise.

The narrative concerns the visit to India of a young woman not familiar with the strict unwritten rules of the British in India. She wants and does meet educated Indians but trouble starts with her prospective fiancé a local magistrate. Beautiful descriptive passages of India are woven in with the story that gets quite tense in places. These descriptions of the Indian countryside coupled with the narrative between the English girl and the local Indians both Muslim and Hindu are done with such skill that for me the novel appeared modern indeed. Having just read the Raj Quartet and Vickram Seth's "A Suitable Boy" in the past the description of India, the use of the familiar Indian words and descriptive phrases made reading this like visiting a loved location all over again. Couple this with the introduction and several Essays by the late Peter Burra this short novel was a special treat to read and I thoroughly recommend it. Reading this before the Raj Quartet then moving onto the modern India with Suitable Boy should be a reading journey almost as good as a visit to that wonderful country (well cheaper!) - Or at least they should be required reading before a visit!.

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