Kim by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.” The words Elizabeth Bennet spoke to Mr. Darcy reminded me of my struggles to frame this book before I read it.
Rudyard Kipling's novel of The Great Game in British colonial India has been described as "unrepentant colonialism," "an apology for British imperialism," and flat-out racism. Then others cite it as one of the best books they've ever read, calling its depiction of friendship and adventure both beautiful and revealing of the author's "love for India and its people."
Perhaps it is all of these things. It is certainly complex, full of the chaos and serendipity of life. Do imperialists ever grasp these things or is it only for the politically-correct? As Mahbub Ali says to himself at the end of the story, "It must be true...that I am a Sufi [a free-thinker]; for here I sit, drinking in blasphemy unthinkable."
The narrative is at times challenging to follow, but the scenes play out vividly: places, people, food, animals. We are carried along the road with Kim and his companions. As Kim is ignorant of the forces at play at the beginning of the story, so are we. The more he learns, the more we begin to understand. Ultimately, we wonder whether the seemingly naive lama is not right about the nature of life, "A good deed does not die. He aided me in my Search. I aided him in his...Let him be a teacher; let him be a scribe--what matter? He will have attained Freedom at the end. The rest is illusion."
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