|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.
2012 Book 156: The House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Khalili
Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read on LibraryThing.
Many of us were taught that the origins of science were in Ancient Greece but that the Western World fell into the “Dark Ages” where science was lost and no progress was made. This traditional story concludes that the Western world rediscovered the Greek philosophies thus spurring on the Renaissance. A few months ago, I reviewed The Genesis of Science, by James Hannam, which was meant (partly) to dispel our notions of the Middle Ages as a time of darkness, a mire of progress. Hannam then describes how in the early years of the Renaissance, old scientific documents were rediscovered and translated. He only only briefly mentions the fact that those rediscoveries (and the ability to translate them) came from revitalized contact with the Arab world. The House of Wisdom fills that gap, by describing the ways in which the Arab world built upon the science of the Greeks, thus building the foundation for the scientific progress made during the Renaissance. I don’t mean to say that Al-Khalili’s book is only a gap-filler in the other book, but that the two books complement each other. The weaknesses in each are fortified by the strengths in the other.
The House of Wisdom is an engrossing description of Ancient Arab history of science. Al-Khalili discusses the development of math, optics, medicine, chemistry, and philosophy by sketching descriptions of major scientific figures and their accomplishments. While Hannam’s book tended to have a lot of gossipy digressions about the scholars, Al-Khalili tended to focus on facts that were more to the point. This makes Al-Khalili’s book more informative, but less entertaining, than Hannam’s book. For relief, All-Khalili inserts little passages about his own experiences in Iraq, which were helpful for lightening the mood. One thing I didn’t like about Al-Khalili’s book is that he is still stuck on the old-fashioned belief that the Western Middle Ages were dark and progress-free. And neither book covered the development of science in China or India.
Overall, if you’re interested in reading about Arabic science, I think this book is an excellent place to start. 🙂
2012 Book 105: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler (7/11/2012)
Reason for Reading: It fit into Reading Globally’s Middle Eastern literature theme.
My Review 3.5 stars
In this short work, Feiler reviews the Biblical story of Abraham and then describes how the myth of Abraham has changed over time and between the Abrahamic religions. It is well-written and interesting, and its length is well-suited for the amount of information Feiler wishes to convey. (There were no lengthy speculations in order to add bulk!) I enjoyed it and learned a little bit, too!
2012 Book 24: The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (2/7/2012)
Reason for reading: I wanted to read a YA book with Muslims in it, though this turned out to be neither YA nor to have very much about the Muslim faith. But it was still enjoyable.
Personal note: I am currently reading The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika and I keep coming across the word “satrap,” which is the title of a governor of a provence in ancient Persia. So it was very amusing to me to come across the modern Persian name Satrapi. I feel like I’ve made a connection. 🙂
My Review: 4/5 stars
Persepolis is a graphic memoir about Marjane Satrapi, a young “modernized” girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Due to the trials of being an outspoken modern girl in this oppressive regime, she must leave her family and live alone in Austria to finish her education. There, she loses herself before finally coming to terms with her own identity. It was a heartbreaking memoir. The story and art were very dark, but humorous as well. I thought this book would be for young adults, but feel it would appropriate only for a VERY mature teenager. It has topics such as torture, rape, violence, and drugs. It was very educational about the revolutionary regime, though I don’t know how biased it is.