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Kim by Rudyard Kipling
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Kim (1901)

by Rudyard Kipling, airmont, Airmont

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,026166901 (3.85)3 / 475
Filled with lyrical, exotic prose and nostalgia for Rudyard Kipling's native India, "Kim" is widely acknowledged as the author's greatest novel and a key element in his winning the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature. It is the tale of an orphaned sahib and the burdensome fate that awaits him when he is unwittingly dragged into the Great Game of Imperialism. During his many adventures, he befriends a sage old Tibetan lama who transforms his life. As Pankaj Mishra asserts in his Introduction, "To read the novel now is to notice the melancholy wisdom that accompanies the native boy's journey through a broad and open road to the narrow duties of the white man's world: how the deeper Buddhist idea of the illusion of the self, of time and space, makes bearable for him the anguish of abandoning his childhood."… (more)
  1. 51
    Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (John_Vaughan)
  2. 30
    Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game by Peter Hopkirk (DuncanHill)
    DuncanHill: Hopkirk follows Kim's travels across India, exploring the places and the historical events and people which inspired Kipling.
  3. 31
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (MarthaJeanne)
    MarthaJeanne: I think that Ash in Far Pavillions was based partly on Kim. Both books deal with the ambivalence between cultures of those who were brought up in a different culture to the one they belonged to by birth and later education. Both are also great adventure stories that take place during the British Raj in India. The big difference being that Kim only deals with childhood, but Ash has to go on to life as an adult.… (more)
  4. 31
    Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another orphan meets a helpful older man with a mission
  5. 10
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Orphaned kid with plenty of street-smarts embarks on a dangerous journey interwoven with high-stakes matters from the adult world (Slavery/Russo-British Espionage).
  6. 21
    About a Boy by Nick Hornby (melmore)
  7. 00
    Carnets du Yoga n° 1 - Janvier 1979 by Gérard Blitz (Joop-le-philosophe)
  8. 11
    The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: More spying and skulduggery
  9. 22
    Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Gregorio_Roth)
    Gregorio_Roth: The book is a modern interpretation of KIM in a number of ways. I think it will complete your point of view on Imperialism and India.
  10. 12
    The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (thorold)
    thorold: Two books that demonstrate that it's possible to use a Buddhist holy man to power the plot of a complex modern novel without getting all mystical and Hermann Hesse.
  11. 12
    Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both these books feature cunning, clever spies who speak several languages and can pass for several different nationalities - they are also both great adventures.
Asia (47)
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English (157)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (165)
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
Kim & the Great Game
  ritaer | May 19, 2020 |
Rudyard Kipling

Kim

Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback [1994].

12mo. 383 pp. Cover: detail from The Fortress of Ghunur Ghur on the Ganges, Uttar Pradesh by William Hodges (1744–1797).

First published, 1901.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

=============================================

Despite my inauspicious first meeting with Kipling, I was determined to give Kim a fair chance. The book comes highly recommended. Even Somerset Maugham, who praised Kipling’s stories out of all proportion to their merit, is on record that “Kim is his masterpiece”. But he also left a somewhat ambiguous evaluation of the novel:

There was a puerile side to Kipling, and Kim is by way of being a boy’s book (so was Treasure Island for the matter of that), but Kipling had a wonderful sense of the picturesque, and it must be a very dull person who is not thrilled by his description of the life of the bazaars and of the road. He gives you its teeming variety, its color, its smell and its vitality.

There are here, indeed, some very nice descriptions of the Grand Trunk Road, “such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world”, crowded railroads and bustling cities. The bewildering variety of races and languages on the Subcontinent is teeming on these pages. Yes, it is a striking photograph of India at the end of the 19th century, full-colour and high-definition, redolent of sights, smells and sounds – and hopelessly two-dimensional. The third and most important dimension is built with characters. This is where the book fails miserably, even with the title character.

Kim is a charming, smart and resourceful kid, as befit somebody who’s grown up on the bazaars of Lahore. He is white, and Irish if you please, but much more at home with everything local from dress and languages to customs and cuisine. This is quite at variance with Kipling’s notorious politics. Kim is rightly called “Friend of all the World”, including the British, but he doesn’t share their prejudices. On the contrary, he rejects completely the colonial mentality. “I am not a Sahib”, he says in the end (his emphasis). One can’t be any blunter than that.

Anyway, Kim’s actions emphatically support his non-Sahib claim – even when he says, several times, “I am a Sahib” (without emphasis, probably with some irony). I don’t see how an imperialist, who is by definition a racist as well, could have created a character like Kim.

All the same, I’m less impressed with Kim than pretty much everyone else in the book. “Child, thou art beyond all dispute the most shameless son of Shaitan [...] Thou wilt go very far in this world”, exclaims a girl, probably not much older than Kim, at the bazaar. “I have met many men, women, and boys, and not a few Sahibs”, says Mahbub Ali, a shrewd man of the world if there ever was one. “I have never in all my days met such an imp as thou art.” Even Lurgan Sahib is unduly smitten with Kim’s adventurous spirit which, in his opinion, would make the perfect spy:

From time to time, God causes men to be born – and thou art one of them – who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news – today it may be of far-off things, tomorrow of some hidden mountain, and the next day of some near-by men who have done a foolishness against the State.

The trouble with Kim is that he is sort of Dickensian title character (I mean Oliver Twist). Much happens to him, but he is seldom the active part. He is often pushed in the background, or disappears altogether, for pages on end while others take the spotlight. Most of his adventures are pretty tame (e.g. the game in Lurgan’s house or his “romance” with the Woman of Shamlegh); some of the most interesting are not shown but told, and briefly at that (e.g. his education as an Englishman and a spy or his visits to Delhi or Patiala).

We are told little and shown even less about Kim’s inner world; his thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears remain largely obscure. This is presumably his coming-of-age story, but it’s hard to find any change in him for these three years and almost 400 pages. He learns to read and write in English. He loses a little of childhood’s naive sense of wonder and acquires some adult poise. That is all. Kipling fishes for something more in muddy waters, but he ends up with a fantastic piece of bathos.

The other fairly major character, the lama, is a lot vaguer and less substantial. He is a hardcore Buddhist, always searching for the River of the Arrow and moaning about the Wheel of Things to which everybody is bound for life after life. If you can honestly believe that stuff, it’s wonderful (I guess). If you can’t, it is simply stupid. India, among many other things, is the cradle of some of the most idiotic superstitions ever devised by the mind of man. The relationship between Kim and the lama is presumably the backbone of the book, but I found it superficial and melodramatic – when I could find it at all. Even when they are together – which for most of the book they are not – they simply “take the Road”, Kim begging for food, the lama babbling mystical nonsense. And that’s that.

Other plot conventions come and go without ever turning into anything like characters. Some of them, like Colonel Creighton and the pair of priests (the Protestant Bennett and the Catholic Father Victor), are rather promising. But they are nothing more than shadows, if that. Mahbub Ali, the horse dealer with his painted beard and speech full of Oriental extravagance, is the only person besides Kim with some sort of life in him. The father-son friendship between them is much more fascinating than the sentimental affair with the lama, but in the end it proves to be – you guessed it! – yet another sketchy relationship that’s never developed to anything like its full potential.

Kim is not really a novel. The plot is chaotic at best, more like a sort of impressions and incidents collected together. It certainly doesn’t give the impression of something well thought out and executed with care. Nor is any of this surprising. Kipling was a short story writer. He was not a novelist. He had no idea how to construct a plot or develop a character at some length. As for the spy subplot (the “Great Game”, indeed!), it is feeble, sporadic, hardly related to the “lama subplot” and on the whole rather boring. The final big bang in “the Hills” (i.e. the Himalayas) is not even a whimper. Whatever this book may be, it is not a spy novel.

Speaking of style, the best I can say is that the book is very readable, surprisingly so considering how tough going I found some of Kipling’s stories. No gibberish dialects here, thank Kipling for that! But the writing is seldom exciting or indeed especially evocative. It’s very dry, too. Apart from a rare dig at the Church of England (“creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of ‘heathen’”), Kim’s childish jokes define the limits of Kipling’s sense of humour. If prolixity is the soul of wit, then Hurree Babu may be accepted as a comic character. I found him unspeakably tedious. On the whole, the writing is downright pedestrian, occasionally peppered with affected similes (“danced in agony like a terrier at a lifted stick”) and spurious profundity:

‘What profit to kill men?’
‘Very little – as I know; but if evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers.’

For the first time in his life, Kim thrilled to the clean pride (it can be a deadly pitfall, none the less) of Departmental praise – ensnaring praise from an equal of work appreciated by fellow-workers. Earth has nothing on the same plane to compare with it. But, cried the Oriental in him, Babus do not travel far to retail compliments.

And so he petted and comforted Kim with wise saws and grave texts on that little-understood beast, our Body, who, being but a delusion, insists on posing as the Soul, to the darkening of the Way, and the immense multiplication of unnecessary devils.


Maugham hit on the right adjective. The best word to describe this book is indeed “puerile”. It’s a book for boys, and the more imaginative among them may well find it lacking in adventure. They won’t understand the philosophising, but they won’t miss anything important either. There can be no comparison with Treasure Island (1883), which is much better written in the first place, terrific adventure story full of unforgettable characters, and really not a book for children at all.

As for the travel poster of India, whatever merits it might have, it’s obviously not enough to make a novel. For that matter, many of Kipling’s Indian stories (“At the End of the Passage”, “William the Conqueror”, “Without Benefit of Clergy”, “The Tomb of His Ancestors”), for all of their faults, have many passages more powerful than anything in Kim and, as a body of work, present a much more vivid and comprehensive tribute to British India.

Kim could have been a great novel, an epic tale of intrigue and adventure, crowned with a restless and even tragic character caught between East and West. But such an ambitious task was well beyond Kipling’s modest powers.

I still have The Jungle Books (1894-5) somewhere on my shelves and I still intend to read them one day. But it seems that Kipling’s putative genius is destined to remain a mystery to me. ( )
  Waldstein | Feb 1, 2020 |
1.5 stars

Kim is an orphan. Apparently, this is 19th century India. This is all I know.

What’s a baboo? What’s a lama? (I know Dalai Lama is a title, but I still don’t know what a lama is.) Mack Boob. Mack Bow Valley (or Mack Bow Bally?) - these are what might have been names (or what sounded like it on the audio). Thou and thee. I heard these words over and over. Beyond that, nothing registered. It just didn’t interest me enough to keep my attention… not even a little bit. I did catch, at the very start, that Kim was an orphan. That’s it. That’s all I know. It got an extra .5 because I didn’t hate it. I didn’t hate it because I wasn’t paying attention. Hate is strong. ( )
  LibraryCin | Sep 9, 2019 |
A great book. Colourful in its description of India, with its mixtures of religions, peoples and cultures. It appears enlightened even by today's standards as it does not cater to any particular group and just describes the world as it was. ( )
  PhilOnTheHill | Sep 8, 2019 |
An enjoyable and engaging novel about an orphan growing up in British India. ( )
  thejohnsmith | Apr 29, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (87 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kipling, Rudyardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
airmontmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Airmontmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Biseo, CesareCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carrington, Charles EdmundIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohen, MortonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cooper, SusanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cosham, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dastor, SamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilton, MargaretNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacques, RobinIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kipling, John LockwoodIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyers, JeffreyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolland, VéroniqueCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Said, Edward W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sandison, AlanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serra, RenatoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sharma, MadhavNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vincenzi, FioraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weeks, Edwin LordCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Kim (1950IMDb)
Kim (1955IMDb)
Kim (1984IMDb)
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Epigraph
Oh ye who tread the Narrow Way

By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,

Be gentle when the heathen pray

To Buddha at Kamakura!
Dedication
First words
He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141332506, 0141442379, 0141199970

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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Urban Romantics

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