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on 18 January 2009
Charles Allen has produced a superb biography covering the first thirty-five years of Kipling's life. The book concentrates on Kipling's relationship with India, which Allen convincingly argues sustained most of his best work.

Today Kipling can appear an austere figure, a handle-bar moustached Imperialist advocate, with ideas on race beyond the pale of polite society. But Allen shows the young Kipling ("Ruddy") to be so much more interesting and sympathetic than the stereotype suggests.

Allen is excellent on Ruddy's early life in Bombay, his unloved years in Southsea away from his parents, his return to India and work there as a journalist, his development as a writer and return to England to become a literary superstar.

Ruddy trod new ground among writers: for example, he was the first to give a voice to the men rather than the officers in the British army. In India he talked to everyone: from Vieroys to the most downtrodden and his empathy for misfits, outsiders and slackers gave his fiction its wondrous colour and detail.

For me the most surprising elements of Kipling's life include his nocturnal explorings of native India, his visits to Lahore courtesans, his experiences with opium and his depressions. The older Kipling did much to obscure Ruddy's antics from future generations. But Allen is superb at uncovering Ruddy's secrets and they make him so much more of a sympathetic and modern man than I had previously believed.

I have not read any of Kipling's prose since my teenage years when I struggled through the Second Jungle Book. But this book has re-awakened my interest and I shall shortly be reading Kim, which Allen considers Kipling's masterpiece.

Read this book if you are interested in learning more about what made Kipling tick, whether you have got into his works yet or not. Also read this book if you are interested in the Raj. Allen makes this far-away world come alive.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2010
This book is a must-read for all Kipling lovers and also for those who aren't quite sure whether or not they should be approving of him. Kipling is a huge favourite of mine. Like me, he was born in Bombay, India. Like me, he was christened in St Thomas' Cathedral, Bombay. Like me, he loved India. I still love India. He was happiest in the years he spent in India, especially in Bombay. He made it his business to get to know local people, so those who accuse him of jingoistic prejudice couldn't be more wrong. Brought back to England by his parents when he and his sister were only children, his life in this country - in the hands of two people who today would be imprisoned for child abuse - was a misery he only just survived. This book has added volumes to my affection for this writer whose books - expecially The Jungle Book - I used to take on holiday with me, as a child, to Matheran, in the Western Ghats. To me, the Bandar Log (monkey people) were real - the Kala Mous (blackfaced langurs) used to come whooping through our garden to steal the mangoes and at night we heard the villagers in the valleys around our bungalow beating drums to scare off Bagheera who roamed the jungle at night looking for unwary dogs to snatch. We had to watch out for Kaa who would lie across our pathway to bask in the sun and Rikki Tikki Tavi, the mongoose, well he is every bit the hero now that he was then and I have read his story to Year 6 youngsters who have been spellbound by it. Please read this wonderful book and have your understanding of "Ruddy" enriched as mine has been. And then, visit Bateman's in Burwash, East Sussex, where he lived with his wife, Carrie, and their family.
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on 14 November 2008
As a nutritional anthropolgist and writer Deadly Harvest: The Intimate Relationship Between Our Health and Our Food, I have a professional interest in the local color in India back in Victorian times. In this book I was not disappointed.

I had no idea Kipling was such a precocious, bumptious and opinionated young man. How he matured so young! And of course that terrible time in the Southsea foster home. He was also quite a lad, seemingly with all kinds of dalliances, especially in Simla. It all goes to explain how he could write a poem like "The Ladies".

Incredible how he developed such a deep understanding of the East. Breaking convention and wandering the streets of the native cities by night and making all kinds of unconventional acquaintances and soaking up novel experiences. That was the local color so wonderfully exemplified by his novel Kim Kim (Penguin Classics), and his Ballad of East and West.

Kipling also did something that no Sahib had done before: talk to the ordinary Tommy in the barracks and absorb all the terrible privations they suffered. That is how he could write a short story like "The Drums of the Fore and the Aft" in The Man Who Would be King: and Other Stories(Oxford World's Classics) and searing poems like Danny Deever Collected Verse of Rudyard Kipling.

Charles Allen only sounds one false note when, seemingly as a a sop to the politically correct, he is unnecessarily apologetic about Kipling and his time. Quite uncalled for! Kipling's works display a wonderful understanding and sympathy for humanity in general. How lucky we are to have his works as an insightful record of the British Raj.
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on 28 May 2012
Kipling Sahib, a book by Charles Allen is a great read.

As one who lived in British India over 60 years ago, I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in India.
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on 21 May 2011
Loved this book. First 80 pages a bit plodding then, as Kipling really starts to explore both native and British India, you do too. His nighttime prowls on the streets of Lahore and cutting parodies of British hill station society are wonderful.

A fascinating character, unfashionable for partly justifiable reasons - yes, he was a reactionary; you can't revise that away - but also a complicated, interesting man who had real affinity for aspects of Indian culture.

Can't wait to start reading the early stories...
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on 18 March 2016
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on 7 November 2014
I live in the middle of Kipling country where he did a lot of writing, so I read this book where his spirit lives on. I spent a lot if time during this late autumnal summer we have had, reading it outside. It paints a wonderful picture of Anglo-Indian society in British Raj Bombay and also I never realised what an awful effect being left in a boarding house as a child had on him. The relationship between him and his younger sister is really interesting. His relationship with his mother is well-drawn and gives you a feeling of both its ambiguity and its closeness, and her influence on his writing. I also loved learning about his artistic father and the important work he did , teaching and sculpturing in clay mainly in India but also South Kensington, not forgetting both parents close connections with the Pre-Raphaelites. His mother was something of a Pre-Raphaelite groupie. As well as getting a picture of how he wrote his well-known books, I loved hearing about his time as a journalist in India. This book conjures up this formative period in his life very effectively. The writing is relatively modern and relevant. There is much to admire in Kipling's honesty and principles but it is made clear in the book that he was a product of his time. he was always outspoken, he was always an outsider and later on I think he began to want to, and did, become part of the Establishment, which was personally great for him in a way, but in another led to his downfall. Overall from reading this book, I feel inspired in my own writing.
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on 21 January 2014
Charles Allen gives a detailed, authoritative and symapthetic portrait of this former British icon. A re-evaluation of Kipling's considerable gifts
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on 5 September 2013
This is a great book filling in parts of Kipling's life that I had little information on and I have a particular interest in his life in India.
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on 24 April 2016
EXCELLENT well written book by the people that knew him and knew his real story in India, a fascinating read.
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