by Rudyard Kipling
Kim, orphaned son of an Irish sergeant in the Indian Army, is brought up
as an Indian street urchin. Fluent in Hindi and Pushtu, he is
quick-witted and street-wise. When he becomes attached to a Tibetan
lama searching for the River of Buddha’s Arrow, his life becomes
intertwined with the Great Game --- England’s espionage network that
safeguards British India.
This is a terrific novel: witty,
suspenseful, rich in descriptions of forgotten or disappearing people
and customs, and above all as complex and layered as India herself.
There is a smack of the white man’s superior airs in the novel --- it is
Kim’s “white blood” that makes him immune to the suggestions of India’s
magic and his English education that allows him to resist hypnotism ---
but there is nothing, to my eyes, denigrating in the novel. Kipling
loves India, and Kim is India. Able to mimic a Sahib, a Hindi, a
Muslim, a beggar, a chela or what have you, he represents all of India:
its “good, gentle” people who revere the wise and the virtuous. The
ending of the book is perfect: there’s closure, but it leaves all of
India, from its dusty plains to the bitter cold of the Hills
(Himalayas), open to Kim’s skills and knowledge. A truly great book,
much more than an adventure story, road trip, or coming of age story.
It is all these and more. It is one of the world's greatest novels.