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Rudyard Kipling has been attacked for championing British imperialism and celebrated for satirizing it. In fact, he did both. Nowhere does he express his own ambivalence more strongly than in Kim, his rousing adventure novel of a young man of many allegiances.
Kimball O’Hara grows up an orphan in the walled city of Lahore, India. Deeply devoted to an old Tibetan lama but involved in a secret mission for the British, Kim struggles to weave the strands of his life into a single pattern. Charged with action and suspense, yet profoundly spiritual, Kim vividly expresses the sounds and smells, colors and characters, opulence and squalor of complex, contradictory India under British rule.
Jeffrey Meyers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has published forty-three books, including biographies of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, and George Orwell. He also wrote the introduction and notes to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.
In Kim, Kipling creates an exotic atmosphere, full of vivid characters and incidents, and immediately draws the reader into his strange world. The novel concerns a religious quest and a quest for identity, and includes both enlightenment and espionage, tranquillity and violence. It combines social, cultural, and political history with the hardships and goal of a travel book. Like Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha 1922, Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge l944, and Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea 1978, it is one of the rare European novels with a Buddhist theme. Kim and the lama, Dharma Bums on the Road, foreshadow the sprawling works of Jack Kerouac. Maugham, a great admirer of Kipling, wrote that he gives you "the tang of the East, the smell of the bazaars, the torpor of the rains, the heat of the sun-scorched earth, the rough life of the barracks."10
Kipling achieved his brilliant effects by combining his two great themes, childhood and India, and by creating a bountiful array of characters, subtle modulations of style and speech, and a carefully wrought structure that controls the series of fortuitous encounters and picaresque adventures. Kim, the orphaned son of a drunken Irish sergeant and a nursemaid mother, has been brought up by a Eurasian opium eater, given free run of the narrow streets and back alleys of Lahore, and become completely assimilated to Indian life. The rainbow coalition of indigenous teachers, who lead him to his true identity and real vocation, are increasingly Europeanized; his English teachers, who train him as a spy, are increasingly sophisticated and significant.
The Tibetan Buddhist lama rejects the world and searches for salvation. Mahbub Ali, the Afghan Muslim horse trader, works with the English but retains his traditional customs. Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, the Hindu Bengali and "semi-anglicized product of our Indian colleges,"11 tries to adopt British behavior and speech. The Protestant and Catholic clergymen, Mr. Bennett and Father Victor, try to co-opt Kim into their religions. Lurgan, English but born in India, tests Kim and trains him for the Great Game of espionage. Colonel Creighton, a secret agent masquerading as an ethnologist Kim, an expert on castes and keen on mimicry, is himself an amateur ethnologist, recognizes Kim's unique potential and exploits his rare talents. Kim asks: "'What am I? Mussalman, Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist?'" and is none of the above. But in a brief, touching scene he combines the British, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain elements in his character and culture and forgets "even the Great Game as he stooped, Mohammedan fashion, to touch his master's feet in the dust of the Jain temple".
Kim and each of his native mentors have a different and quite idiosyncratic way of speaking. Kipling vividly conveys the flavor of vernacular speech and the formulaic repetitions of unlettered folk by using traditional proverbs and archaic diction from the seventeenth-century English of the King James Bible and Shakespeare. The lama keeps repeating the same solemn banalities in a singsong cadence: "'They are all bound upon the Wheel. . . . Bound from life after life. To none of these has the Way been shown'". Mahbub Ali's declamatory phrases express his hearty ruffianism: "'God's curse on all unbelievers! Beg from those of my tail who are of thy faith.'" The babu Hurree, pompous and slightly absurd, drops his definite articles, mispronounces long words, and misuses English idioms: "'I am of opeenion that it is most extraordinary and effeecient performance. Except that you had told me I should have opined that—that—that you were pulling my legs.'" The seductive Woman of Shamlegh speaks with languid insinuations: "'I do not love Sahibs, but thou wilt make us a charm in return for it. We do not wish little Shamlegh to get a bad name.'" Kim shifts from stilted English before his formal education: "'Every month I become a year more old,'" to old-fashioned schoolboy slang after he's been to St. Xavier's: "'By Jove! . . . This is a dam'-tight place.'" T. S. Eliot observed the contrast between Kipling's portrayal of native characters in the early stories and in Kim:
There are two strata in Kipling's appreciation of India, the stratum of the child and that of the young man. It was the latter who observed the British in India and wrote the rather cocky and rather acid tales of Delhi and Simla, but it was the former who loved the country and its people. . . . The Indian characters have the greater reality because they are treated with the understanding of love. . . . It is the four great Indian characters in Kim who are real: the Lama [not Indian], Mahbub Ali, Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, and the wealthy widow from the North.
Posted March 16, 2005
Ok, we all know that he was a colonialist and at times bordered on bigotry, but this book is Rudyard Kipling's best and it is an absolute masterpiece. It's the ultimate tale of an Englishman gone native: James Bond meets Siddhartha. Kipling's identification with Kim, his young protagonist, is complete. This is the work of a man passionately in love with India, and in possession of extraordinary powers of observation and description.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2010
One of the most beautiful tales of friendship I have ever read, Kim is much more. Rudyard Kipling created in Kim a novel in the mold of the classic heroic journey that has a pedigree reaching back to Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. With Kim, a young white boy, sahib, at it's center and his friend and mentor the Lama, we see the world of India in the nineteenth century as it is ruled by Great Britain. Kipling raises questions of identity (Who is Kim?), culture, spirituality and the nature of fate. Most of all he depicts the growth of a young man through his quest to find his destiny and the bond that develops between Kim as 'chela' or disciple and his Lama. The greatness of this novel lies in Kipling's ability to combine all of these themes with a natural style that conveys the richness both of the lives of Kim and his friends and the fecundity of life in India. One of the most enduring images for me was the close tie Kim has with the land itself. This is shown several times throughout the novel culminating in his final renewal when stretched out on the earth near the end of the novel. The epic quest is successful as this novel unfolds a positive and uplifting narrative.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 7, 2005
Kipling has become, in these post-colonial days, the man you love to hate. Yet few have equaled Kipling¿s story of an Indian beggar boy whose experience in the heyday of the British raj forces him into personal transformation that entirely illuminates the impact of colonialism on a subject people. The novel, owing to the strength of its narrative and its fatally believable realism, hovers on the dark side of modern consciousness, as does much of Kipling. The writer who invented the phrase ¿The White Man¿s Burden¿ is someone many people would like to forget. But one testimony to the ongoing power of Kim is the recent novel The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru, a descant on Kipling¿s narrative of the problem of identity in British India. The fact that an Indian author borrows Kipling¿s idea and shapes a story on Kiplingesque lines is simply testimony to the ongoing authority of this classic.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2011
Posted November 24, 2009
I Also Recommend:
I love Kim!! It is the most amazing book and it touches you. Kim my grandfather wanted me to read it and I have to say I was a little sceptical at first , but it turned out to be asdonding. YOU must read this book and watch the movie with Errol Flynn!! Its is simaler to the book in some was. I am 11 and I love Kim and Rudyard Kiplings books.I would recommend this to someone. I have to my friend Caroline. I also recommed Kim the movie with Errol Flynn it is the best of them all.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2005
Kim is an exceptional piece of literature relating to imperialistic India. Kipling's use of Indian diction, especially with the lama. The novel is a truthful depiction pertaining to the confusion of race, religion, and imperial expansion. The author, Rudyard Kipling, however, was an absolute racist, which almost makes one want to hurl the book against a wall instead of reading it. Kipling coined the despicable term 'white man's burden', which related to the need for expansion in order to 'civilize' the 'savage' man in the East. I love the novel, but loathe its creator.
1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 10, 2014
Why do you ppl put stories about yourself and another person about removing clothes, sex, kissing and weddings?! You guys have some PROBLEMSWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2013
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Posted May 8, 2013
She says Ok and pushes u roughly onto a wooden chair after slapping her ra.pist. She dances expertly in front of him eventually removing her cloth dropping it in his lap. She sits down naked with one leg on either side facing uWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2013
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Posted November 25, 2012
I always thought of Rudyard Kipling as a stuffy British colonial writer. I had no clue he spent many of his formative years in India. His first language was Hindi. This book is a tribute to his upbringing. This book has many references which I was not familiar with, but the notes in this edition really did add some value to my reading experience. If you are a fan of road stories, or coming of age tales then you will definitely enjoy this novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2012
By modern standards this is a pretty tame spy novel, but it's still full of intrigue, interspersed with spiritualism and a lot of Indian culture. A journey of self as much as a look into the life of a boy trying to fit into two societies he's only half a part of.
Kipling's writing is also very dense, a lot of action, thoughts, and ideas are put into every sentence. An excellent read, highly recommended.
Posted June 29, 2012
Even as an avid reader, I struggled at times with this book. That being said, I'm so glad that I didn't give up before finishing. I learned a lot from Kipling's "Kim."Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2012
Posted March 3, 2012
I enjoyed reading this book. I am currently reading a list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century and it was one of the most interesting books from the list that I've read thus far.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.