Title: A Passage to India
Author: Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970)
Date: 1924 (Harcourt Brace & World), 1984 reprint (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
Publisher: Harcourt Brace & World / Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Length: 322 pages
Quote: "Except for the Marabar Caves--and they are twenty miles off--the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary...The very wood seems made of mud."
E.M. Forster dedicated this novel "To Syed Ross Masood and to the seventeen years of our friendship." He closed it with his fictional protagonist Fielding saying to his fictional protagonist Aziz, "Why can't we be friends now? It's what I want. It's what you want," "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...they said in their hundred voices, 'No, not yet.'"
In the 322 pages between these differing claims, Forster explains a few specific ways in which British colonialism limited the extent to which an Englishman and an Indian could be friends. Fielding and Aziz are congenial, and in some ways the adventure they share in this book is a bonding experience. In other ways, of course, it's alienating.
Aziz, the local doctor, a good family man, accompanies a party of tourists into the spooky Marabar caves. The weird echoes, the drafts of bad air, and the absence of light make everyone a bit nervous. Adela Quested, who is officially engaged and having second thoughts about her marriage, and who has been talking with Aziz, gets lost in the caves. She reports having "been insulted" but "escaped--by God's grace." Aziz has in fact "insulted" her, by walking away when he felt unable to answer a question, and he is arrested...though, if anyone has laid a hand on Quested, it wasn't Aziz.
In fact, as the story develops, it's not certain that anyone has laid a hand on Adela Quested. She felt lost, scared, and sick; she banged into things; she suffers from the heat, from guilt about the trouble she's created for Aziz, and from doubts about her engagement. She's not really hurt at all. Only the vague suspicion some English colonial officers hold, that all foreigners want to harm English women, puts Aziz in as much danger as if Quested had been the victim of a real crime.
This very successful novel is available in a variety of editions and bindings. If you buy it from either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, for $5 per copy + $5 per package, and don't specify one particular edition, you'll get whichever is available at the best price at the time. The copy I currently have for sale has a different cover than the image ganked below, with a color photo of real cliffs in the desert on the front and photos of the stars from the movie version on the back.
(Wordpress tags for this one: bigotry in criminal justice system, British Raj, E.M. Forster, false accusation of rape, Marabar Caves,Passage to India novel and movie.)