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Kim (The Penguin English Library) Paperback – 31 Mar 1994
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Kipling's epic rendition of the imperial experience in India is also his greatest long work. Two men - Kim, a boy growing into early manhood and the lama, an old ascetic priest - are fired by a quest. Kim is white, a sahib, although born in India. While he wants to play the Great Game of Imperialism, he is also spiritually bound to the lama and he tries to reconcile these opposing strands, while the lama searches for redemption from the Wheel of Life. A celebration of their friendship in an often hostile environment, Kim captures the opulence of India's exotic landscape, overlaid by the uneasy presence of the British Raj.
About the Author
Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in India, although educated in England. He was a prolific writer and recognized as a genius. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His many books for children includeJust So Stories and Kim.
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I strongly believe that it is Kipling's greatest work; India just leaps off the page - the sights, sounds, smells, colours. I know that Kipling is deeply unfashionable and much reviled these days, but I find it hard to understand how this book could not be enjoyed by many. I was helped of course by my family's background in India, knowledge of where the places are, of many of the Hindi phrases and customs, the school (based I suspect on La Martiniere College in Lucknow) and the machinations of "The Great Game". I have a few family Indian photos left, and the memory of my mother and grandmothers' joint yearning for the India that they both left (like Kipling) and their occasional conversations in Hindi (which is how I picked up some of the words) were very nostalgic and perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Even in the 21st century, playing "Kim's Game" with Cubs is an interesting exercise in concentration and the story of the jewels it was originally played with sparked their interest when some children complained they didn't like games where they had to concentrate and think!
This book is by turns a sort of travelogue, a rite of passage, embraces Oriental philosophies, has a cracking good story, pays homage to Kipling's father and even has an interestingly ambiguous ending. I read it in full technicolour with all the people and scenes so clearly in my mind, which surely is the mark of a great novel.
This is not Longman Cultural Edition as described. To be fair there are small prints at the end of product description saying "--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.". However, I think this is very dishonest as the seller put product descriptions of Longman Cultural Edition of Kim then add this one line at the end as an excuse to send something completely different. I ordered it from my iPhone app so I didn't notice the last sentence the seller added. On top of that the font is too small - I'm 33 years old with good pair of eyes but even for me it's too small to enjoy the book. I would say font size is about 8-9. Dishonest, disgraceful and disgusting sales conduct. Returning this and ordering another version.
'On The Road' is a phrase which is carved onto one of the relief sculptures which John Lockwood Kipling produced to illustrate his son Rudyard's novel. And considered in one of its aspects, I suppose that 'Kim' is the first example of the twentieth-century 'road' novel, a form which would later became associated with Jack Kerouac, amongst others. The road in question is the Grand Trunk Road, along which Kim and his Tibetan Holy Man make a significant part of their journey. There is also one sequence on this road where you don't have to read very far between the lines in order to realise that Kim is clearly 'stoned' on what Kipling calls a 'native-made cigarette' which he has managed to procure, or blag, along the way. He is a particularly knowing and resourceful little urchin, this one.
During the course of his journey, and the personal development which accompanies it, Kim is recruited by British Intelligence to work as an adolescent spy. And so he becomes drawn into the 'Great Game' between the settled imperial power, Britain, and Russia - her aspirant rival for dominion of India. In Kim's capacity as a secret agent, his Tibetan Holy Man serves unknowingly (?) as his 'cover'. In my view, Kim is the literary prototype for the later British spy novels of authors like Ian Fleming, as well as for the fictional 'teen spy' genre which has become so popular in our own time. These are aspects of Kipling's work which have been much imitated by later writers, though little commented upon by them and certainly never equalled in terms of literary merit.
Written more than a century (and two world wars) ago, the novel still reads as though it had been written this morning. In essence, it hasn't dated at all. On the contrary, I think it has grown more universal and more relevant with the passage of time. Set within the context of India's teeming multi-faith millions, the novel actually feels as though it were taking place within a modern multicultural society. The book's mixture of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and British influences must have seemed desperately exotic to millions of readers when it was first published, in 1901, but that same multicultural context is far more commonplace and universally experienced now.
When considered in what might be called its spiritual aspect, 'Kim' is the most transcendental and all-embracing of Kipling's work, although earlier stories by him also indicate his sympathies to this end. The novel also represents a call for religious tolerance and it firmly flags up the possibility of harmony being achieved and maintained in the midst of religious and ethnic diversity. So do I think that Kim was a visionary work? Yes I do. I think that Kim was not only one of the first, but also one of the most far-seeing novels of the twentieth century.
So far as the book's spiritual influences are concerned, by the end it is pretty clear that in its author's sympathies Buddhism finishes first, with Islam a close second and the other native religions - principally Hinduism and Sikhism - in joint third place. The two branches of the western Christian religion which are represented - the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England - finish a long way behind the others, in fourth and fifth place respectively.
In my view, 'Kim' also draws to a grand conclusion Kipling's 'Indian period'. To this end, it is worthwhile the reader knowing that the 'Woman of Shamlegh' who crops up towards the end of the novel is also the 'Lisbeth' of Kipling's very first story from the collected 'Plain Tales from The Hills'. Beginning and End.
Although a person of some power and status in her native society, the Woman of Shamlegh's attempts to seduce Kim are doomed to failure, as much for reasons tied up with her own past (for a full account of which you will have to read 'Plain Tales from the Hills') as for those to do with Kim's own present and future.
One of the novel's most interesting features is that the emphasis of the story appears to shift with each successive reading. It can be read as a 'road' novel, as an adventure story, a spy yarn, a study of global politics (at that time), a spiritual journey, a coming-of-age tale and, ultimately, as a love story. Indeed, the book ends upon the word 'beloved'.
Note: This review relates to the 'Oxford World's Classics' edition which contains an Introduction by Alan Sandison, a chronology of Kipling's life and works, and Explanatory Notes for the Indian terms which the reader will encounter in the text.
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