Sunday, 24 April 2016

'Kim' by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

Synopsis: Kim is set in 1890s' India during the time of the British Raj and The Great Game (the political conflict between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia for the control of Central Asia). Kimball ("Kim") O'Hara is a 13 year old boy and is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier who was stationed in India before he died. After his father's death Kim was then raised by an opium-addicted local woman for several years but now makes a living by begging and running small errands on the streets of Lahore (now in Pakistan). Kim has become immersed in the local culture and is more fluent in various Indian languages than in English. His only links to his past are a small pack of documents and a prophecy from his father that a "red bull on a green field" will of help to him some day. One day, Kim then happens to meet an elderly Tibetan Lama who is on a quest to free himself from the Wheel of Things by finding the mythical River of the Arrow. Kim decides to become the Lama's chela (disciple) and to accompany him on his journey to the holy city of Benares (now Varanasi). However after the pair of them then encounter a regiment of the British Army, the Lama instead decides to pay for Kim to attend a prestigious boarding school in Lucknow. Kim then spends several years at this school and is trained up as a spy for the British Indian Secret Service there. Kim then re-unites with the Lama and the pair of them then go on a journey to the Himalayas in which they find both espionage and enlightenment.


Kim isn't Rudyard Kipling's most popular and famous work (which is of course The Jungle Book) but it is the one that's generally considered by the literary critics to be his "true masterpiece". Now I recently read both Kim and The Jungle Book and when it comes down to which of the books that I think is the better read I'm completely on the side of the general public here because I found The Jungle Book to be the far more accessible and enjoyable book of the two.

Kim was an extremely hard-going and tedious read. There's actually very little plot in the book, I was completely unable to care about Kim or any of the other characters, and the dialogue in the book is not only curiously formal but is absolutely full of idioms, colloquialisms and lines that felt like historical/cultural references that I wasn't able to get. I felt like I was constantly missing things in the book and that was extremely frustrating to me.

However even though I can't say that I enjoyed Kim very much, I will say that there are some lovely descriptions in it (there was a particularly beautiful description of night-time Lahore near the start that gave me a lot of hope for the novel) and that Kipling has an obvious fondness for India. Kipling is rather a controversial writer in our time due to his pro-imperialist views but overall the writing in this book left me with the very strong impression that Kipling had a great deal of love and affection for India and its people.

Rating: 2/5

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