A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster

A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
Narrated by Sam Dastor
Contains light spoilers.

With a backdrop of British Colonial India, A Passage to India is the story of Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian physician who is sympathetic and welcoming of the Brits. The story begins with Dr. Aziz meeting an elderly lady who is visiting her son with Miss Quested, a flighty, priggish young woman who wants to meet a “real Indian.” Dr. Aziz, in welcoming exuberance, gives a polite but insincere invitation to his house and is shocked when Miss Quested takes him up on the offer. Embarrassed by his home, Dr. Aziz instead suggests that he host a trip to the Marabar caves. But in those caves, Miss Quested gets lost, and in her fear thinks that Dr. Aziz has accosted her, when he is actually in another cave looking for her. 

A Passage to India was a fantastic book on so many levels. With Miss Quested’s ill-advised acceptance of Dr. Aziz’s invitation (among many other ill-advised behaviors from the ladies), it highlights the differences between Indian culture and British culture. Dr. Aziz is overly accommodating, and the stand-offish British are entirely unaware of his putting himself out–they take all his welcoming exuberance quite literally. 

The characterization was also quite deep. For instance, it showed Miss Quested’s priggishness by her wish to see a “real Indian,” her pronounced reserve by her interactions with her potential fiance, and her openness to suggestion by her continued accusations of Dr. Aziz (which she seemed unsure of, but which were egged on by others of the British community). 

The writing style was sleek and symbolic. For instance at one point, before any of the horrifying incidents unfold, Mrs. Moore sees a wasp which reminds her vaguely of Indian culture. This wasp foreshadows the horrible events that follow. 

And most importantly, the A Passage to India outlined the failings of British colonialism, the blindness and priggishness of the British impressions of Indian people, and the resulting hostilities. 

I loved this book. This is my first Forster book that I’ve read, and it will most certainly not be my last. 


Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Warning: here be spoilers

When Jane fights back against her abusive aunt and cousins, she is sent away to a boarding school for charity cases. There, she is starved, punished severely, and witnesses deaths of students due to school negligence. After living this life for 18 years, she is thrilled to find a place as a governess for the ward of the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. They find love, but only at a great cost. 


I first read Jane Eyre as a teenager and wasn’t thrilled with the book. I thought Rochester was a jerk. And Jane. Well. She started out feisty enough, but as an adult she allowed Mr. Rochester to be a total jerk to her. When she discovers his deep, dark secret, she throws herself about dramatically upon the steppe until she is rescued. Then she meets this nice cousin (St. John Rivers) who proposes to her and offers to whisk her off to India and she says no! 

I just listened the brilliant Juliet Stevenson narration of Jane Eyre with a more mature ear. I noticed several things – Jane’s fiestiness in the first chapters of the book were not necessarily looked on as a good character trait by Charlotte Bronte. In current times we have this view that everyone is equal and we should defend ourselves against abuse instead of just taking it with a bowed head. But look at it from the perspective of a Christian in the 19th Century who may have been taught to accept what she can not change. 

This acceptance is demonstrated to perfection in young Helen Burns – Jane’s friend at school. Helen patiently explains her philosophy to the angry Jane, and Jane heartily disagrees. They seem to be opposite ends of a spectrum. Jane wants to change everything because it’s unacceptable, and Helen wants to accept everything because it’s unchangeable. When Helen’s character dies with acceptance, Jane seems to adopt her philosophy – thus taming the fire within.

It is with this acceptance that she deals quite calmly (most of the time) with the rudeness and games of Mr. Rochester. Jane recognizes that this is how he is, she’s unable to change it, but she is still able to see the kindred spirit within. In other words, it is her acceptance that gives her a trait that I can admire – forgiveness. And it is this acceptance which brings her love in the long run. 

But Jane does not accept to the point of having a weak character. When Rochester gives her an unacceptable choice – living with him as an unmarried couple – she chooses to leave. This is not weakness. This is strength. Yes, she flopped about dramatically on the steppe for a couple of chapters, and it was her own fault for losing her money, but this was a choice she made when she left Mr. Rochester. She couldn’t stay, so she took an option that was very brave: the total unknown. Many a weaker character would have sacrificed her own values and self-worth by staying with Mr. Rochester because she had nowhere else to go. But Jane found a way to change when the “unchangeable” finally became “unacceptable.”

Jane is strong to accept what she can not change and she is strong to change what she can not accept. 


Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Reason for Reading: Well, actually, it was an accident. I watched the BBC movie with my mom and she asked me how similar it was to the book. I said that it was very close to the book, but that there were a few things in the movie that I didn’t really believe happened that way in the book. So I picked up the book and started reading. Got sucked in. 🙂 I was wrong, though, all three incidents happened in the book. 

Review
This is the story of two very different sisters: Elinor is a sensible (yet secretly passionate) young woman who must continuously reign in the wild passions of her mother and sisters – especially Marianne whose head is filled with romantic notions of one-true-love and tragedy. When their father suddenly dies with their newly-acquired estate entailed away to their half-brother John, the sisters are left destitute. John and his wife Fanny descend upon the mourning family within a fortnight and make the sisters and mother feel like unwelcome guests in their beloved home. Elinor soon forms an attachment with Fanny’s brother Edward, but Fanny doesn’t approve of Elinor’s lack-of-fortune-or-name. So the family moves away to a cottage, leaving Edward behind. Poor Elinor must struggle with her own worries about Edward while at the same time monitoring the expensive of the house and trying to reign in the wild, all-consuming attachment of Marianne to the dashing young Willoughby. The romantic hopes of both girls spiral downwards as more and more obstacles appear. 

I love this story because I’ve always admired Elinor for both her passion and her ability to handle all problems that come her way. I also admire Colonel Brandon for his devotion to Marianne despite her ecstatic preference for the younger, handsomer, and less reserved Willoughby. This time around, I also really appreciated Marianne’s character. Her youthful ideas about love were cute – and realistic for many girls of 16. 🙂 Her development throughout the story was extraordinary. I loved the way she slowly, cluelessly, began to understand the world around her. I don’t admire her, but I think she’s cute and very funny. And, frankly, a more interesting character than Elinor (due to her development-of-character).

To be honest, this book is just as much a favorite as Pride and Prejudice. Yes. That is right. I ADMIT that I like this book just as much (possibly a little more) than the beloved P&P.

Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop, 

Written by Charles Dickens, Narrated by George Hagan

Reason for Reading: I’m making a point of reading all of Dickens’ major works. This month, Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Delia from Postcards from Asia hosted Dickens in December, a month dedicated to Charles Dickens. This will also count for the 7th completed book in my Classics Club list

Review 
When Little Nell’s grandfather drives himself into gambling debt (in hopes of raising money for Nell’s future), they must take to the streets to escape the malicious designs of more than one nasty character. Nell’s grandfather increasingly becomes a doddering old fool, and Nell is left to her own devices in finding refuge from the cold, the hunger, and the devious people-of-the-streets. Unbeknownst to them, their good friend (and former servant) Kit is desperately looking for them – praying for their safety and not knowing why they have left. I think this is my least favorite Dickens book so far. Generally, I am able to get involved in the complex narrative and the variety of character in a Dickens novel, but kit was the only character I really cared much about. Nell and her grandfather were so melodramatically pathetic that, although I felt sorry for their situation, I couldn’t get myself to really care about the outcome. Perhaps this was just timing – maybe I’d have liked the book better in another mood. But I can’t say I’ll ever try reading it again to find out. Not a bad book – but Dickens can do better.


A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

2012 Book 172: A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens, Narrated by Tim Curry

Reason for Reading: I read this for a Dickens in December readalong hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Postcards from Asia. Unfortunately, I’m a day behind on my post! This is also one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (sign-up for Team 1001 here).

Review (contains spoilers :p)
When grumpy and miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his long-deceased business partner, he gets the shock of his life. Apparently, a person’s job on earth is to walk among his fellow men and help them. For those who were too selfish to help during life, they are doomed to an eternity of walking among men while desiring to help, but not being able to. Scrooge is about to be given a chance at redemption. He will be visited by three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past will remind him that although he’d had a rather dreary childhood, he’d had plenty of chances to make people (rather than wealth) his passion. The Ghost of Christmas Present will show him how happy people can be when they are surrounded by the people they love at Christmas. And the Ghost of Christmas Future will reveal a dreary future which may come to pass if Scrooge continues on his miserly path. On Christmas morning, Scrooge will awaken a new man – someone who knows how important it is to love one’s neighbors and to rejoice in their friendship. This is such a great story because it reminds us that wealth does not necessarily make us happy. It reminds us to look at the world through a different perspective. And, it’s pretty darned funny. 🙂 

This well-known story was excellently narrated by Tim Curry…and I’m SO glad I decided to pay the extra couple of dollars for the Curry narration! His voice is soothing yet engaging at the same time. His voices for each character are spot on. And his delivery of the humor was so well-timed! 

Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

2012 Book 168: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Written by Jerome K. Jerome, Narrated by Frederick Davidson

Reason for Reading: This was my “monthly random pick” which took me two months to get to. 🙂 My next “monthly random pick” is The Passage, by Justin Cronin. This book is a classic, so it fits in my Classics Club list. 🙂 

Review
In this classic novel of humor, three men (to say nothing of the dog) decide to cure their hypochondriac ailments by getting fresh air and exercise. They decide to travel down the Thames in a boat. The narrator jumps back and forth between humorous description of their preparations/trip and silly reminiscences of loosely connected incidents about the characters. This is the type of book where, at the end, you’re not sure if there was any story in there at all, but you certainly enjoyed the trip regardless. It was a good-natured, happy sort of humor. This is a short book, and certainly worth reading if you like the classics. 🙂