Kim by Rudyard Kipling
This month I thought I’d reread a classic and a personal favorite. Though Kipling’s not widely read anymore, or so it seems, he is a wonderful author with a good grasp of humanity and the times of empire that he grew up in.
Kim is no exception. His mischievous street urchin playing the game to stay alive and get ahead in colonial India is a very endearing protagonist. Through a series of events he goes in search of a better future, armed only with the two documents conferred on him by his father, a former Irish regimental soldier who fell on very hard times and ultimately succumbed to drink and drugs.
Along the way young Kim meets a variety of characters, such as the Tibetan Lama on a pilgrimage to free himself of ‘the wheel of things’. And then there’s the horse trader, Mahbub Ali, a native operative in the British Secret Services playing in the ‘great game’.
The time is between the second and third Afghan war in the late 19th century. A time when both Britain and Russia had designs on the mountainous Afghan region and were each trying to establish dominance across Asia. A time when espionage and intrigue ran high.
By chance Kim is recognized as the son of a regimental soldier and sent to school. After three years there he must choose between a position in the great game or to rejoin his Lama friend on his quest. This is not an easy choice for a young man who’s head’s been filled with the romance of intrigue and espionage.
The characters are drawn with great care and Kipling uses different forms of English, from the more modern speech to the archaic to indicate the different types of people Kim meets. The modern language is obviously spoken at the school and in the regiment, but the archaic, which almost adds a frailty to the speaker, is spoken by the native peoples he encounters.
Kim is a book that appeals to me on many levels; as an historical commentary, a coming of age story and as an almost spiritual tale of longing and redemption.