18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful and sympathetic,
This review is from: Kim (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
The road story of the boy Kim and an aged redemption-seeking Lama told through the sights, sounds, characters, social structures and beliefs of British Imperial India, spiced up (unnecessarily, but enjoyably) with a spy yarn - compelling.
Kipling's devout love of all things Indian is written into every page and episode in this book, which is as much a travelogue as a piece of storytelling. It feels as if his real purpose was to share that devotion with his readers and, to hook them in, he cleverly bolted on a secondary plot about French and Russian spies in the sub-continent. To make these two elements work together Kipling created an unlikely pairing between the Teshoo Lama, abbot of the Himalayan Such-zen monastery who is in search of a miraculous river of redemption, and Kimball ("Kim) O'Hara, the son of a deceased Irish soldier who has pretty much grown up on the streets of Lahore and can pass for a native. Kim becomes the Lama's Chela (follower and pupil) as the Lama travels through India on his quest and this device enables the two to cover the country and meet the many and varied characters that fill it.
For me, that quest and their journey would have been enough as Kipling superbly captures the feel of India at that time; the heat, the smells, the dust, the food, countryside, railways, pilgrims, quacks, rich and poor are all explored along the way and between Kim's scampish youth and the Lama's respected holiness no doors are closed to them. This is a very deferential travelogue that treats India's cultures with reverence but simultaneously exposes the light and shade of its people. The contrast between the resourceful and down-to-earth Kim and the other worldly Lama makes for gentle comedy along the way. However Kipling obviously thought that a more conventional plot element was needed to draw in his readers and so causes Kim to be discovered by his father's old army regiment and, with the Lama's blessing, sent to school to learn to become a Sahib, except in the holidays when he again joins up with the holy man. As a quick-witted and persuasive scallywag, Kim comes to the attention of British Intelligence and is recruited as a junior spy in the Great Game of political intrigue between Britain and Russia played out in India's northern states.
The spy story is really pure macguffin and draws in a cast of shadowy ne'er do well characters - Mahbub Ali, a famous Pashtun horse trader and spy for the British, Colonel Creighton a British Army officer, ethnologist and spy, Lurgan Sahib a Simla gem trader and master spy and Hurree Chunder Mookherjee (The Babu) a Bengali intelligence operative working for the British and Kim's direct superior. Needless to say Kim manages to foil the bad guys but it's not all plain sailing emotionally or spiritually and Kipling leaves the reader nicely unsure as to whether his future lies with the Lama or the spies
There are accusations against Kipling that he promoted British imperial rule in India, or at least failed to condemn it in this work. I don't think he was trying to make a political point either way but simply describing the India he knew and loved, and that's a place which I very much enjoyed spending time in with this book.