Monthly Book Group's Reviews > Kim

Kim by Rudyard Kipling
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's review
Mar 26, 2010

really liked it

Kim (Kipling’s masterpiece) came as a very pleasant surprise to those who came new to Kipling. It was a subtle, engaging, comic and moving tale of a young man’s development, set against a gorgeous backdrop of the teeming subcontinent. The novel showed great insight into India and its people, and contrary to reputation displayed no unpleasant imperialism.

We all agreed that Kim, with its characteristic image of the roads streaming with humanity, provided a gloriously colourful picture of India. Against this vast, multi-coloured canvas was contrasted the detailed development of one individual soul, taking you right into the heart of a being. Kim’s search for identity in the foreign world of the English Sahib was reminiscent of Tom’s experience of an alien world in Jenkins’ “The Changeling”. The novel was multi-layered, mingling the picaresque, the pilgrimage, and the spy adventure, and creating a range of comic characters, such as the lama with his all too human foibles. We felt the prose was superb, although its fluency for the reader was reduced by the use of Indian dialect words and the archaic “thou” form. We compared “Kim” with Forster’s “A Passage to India”: whereas Forster took an outsider’s view of India and its mysteries, Kipling was much more of an insider, getting under the skin of India. Some of us felt that Kipling was in a number of respects more effective in conveying a sense of India.

We found nothing of the tub-thumping imperialist we had expected. He showed deep insight into and sympathy for a whole range of Indians, while often satirising white people. Indians were not shown to be inferior, or the “white man’s burden”. While he did not challenge the political objectives of the spies (dealing with a serious Russian threat to British India), he did contrast their world with the spiritual life. At most he made a few affectionate, arch generalisations about Indians which might run foul of the politically correct brigade a century later, but there was no justification for the overblown comments on imperialism from critics we had come across. If this was imperialism, it was of a very benign nature. It was interesting to hear that an Indian had said that, although Kipling was no longer taught in Indian schools, every educated Indian would have a couple of books by Kipling in his or her house....

This is an extract from a review at Our reviews are also to be found at

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