After reading Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Kim, I’ve come to the conclusion that I think I enjoy his short stories more than his novels. Aspects of the story certainly are beautiful and I could rank the character of Kimball O’Hara up there with some of my favorites. However, my lack of knowledge of the historical details of Kim’s timeperiod made for some tedious reading.
Kim is an orphan of British descent who lives alone on the streets of Lahore in India. He’s taken on a dark complexion so is, therefore, considered a low-caste Indian native. Like most street orphans, he’s considered lovable by some and a nuisance by others who live in his community.
One afternoon a Buddhist lama finds Kim sitting by a large gun at a museum, referred to by the lama as the Wonder House. I found this introduction both brilliant and comical as the lama and Kim join “forces” both for Holy aspirations and for political intrigue.
The entire novel is the journey on which Kim embarks with the lama. The lama is looking for The River of the Arrow in which to cleanse himself of his sins and Kim becomes his disciple. However, Kim’s streetwise abilities pull him into “The Great Game” of spying for the British during their conflict with the Russians over Central Asia, a skill in which he is quite adept.
Kipling depicts India as a picaresque land of many races and religions. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) and Islam all meld together in both conflict and friendship. Having grown up alone in this land, Kim is given the title “Little Friend of All the World” by a Muslim acquaintence.
In spite of Kiplings seeming fascination with India, the British Empire is never portrayed as “the bad guy” and even on a few occasions, Kipling slips in his own imperialistic point of view. This has given the novel a certain amount of controversy in the century-plus since it was written. In spite of this “political incorrectness”, it still captures the mystery and beauty of both India and Kim.
As I mentioned, I was unfamiliar with much of the historical details described in the novel. If I had a considerable amount of time, perhaps I could have researched all of the names and places and conflicts that were dropped in just the normal everyday conversation of Kim and the friends and enemies he meets along his journey. I’m not sure when I would have the time and even if I did, I would end up having to dedicate an entire blog to this novel – which doesn’t sound very appealing.
However, I do have on my list to read in the near future a book called Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Maybe this book will give me some factual understanding of the history of India as well as shed some light on modern elements of this country.