Kim's Reviews > Kim

Kim by Rudyard Kipling
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May 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobook
Read from May 22 to 27, 2012


Even though I share the name of the hero of this novel, I've chosen not to read it until now. There's more than one reason for this. The main reason is that I'm not naturally drawn to picaresque novels or to espionage novels, even though I've read my fair share of books from both genres. I've also had an instinctively negative reaction to Kipling because of my not terribly well-informed view of him as an apologist for British imperialism.

However, in the last few days I've started reading the seventh book in Laurie R King's Mary Russell series, The Game, which features an older Kim, some thirty years after the events of this novel. While King's homage to Kipling's work made me download the audiobook narrated by Sam Dastor, it was Kipling's skill as a writer and storyteller which kept me totally engaged with the narrative. Kim is the story of Kimball O'Hara, the orphaned son of an Irish soldier and a poor Irish woman, who lives by his wits on the streets of Lahore, becomes the disciple of a Tibetan Lama looking for the river which will bring him enlightenment, falls into the hands of the British military, acquires an education, is trained as a spy and plays a part in the Great Game - the battle for supremacy between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia.

Kim is a book which I could easily have disliked. The boy's own adventure elements, the lack of significant female characters, the refences to "Orientals" and "Asiatics" could all have irritated me and/or upset my politically correct sensibilities. It is true that I found the espionage plot rather less interesting than the rest of the plot. However, my lasting impression of the novel will not be those things. Rather, it will be the picture which Kipling paints of India under British rule in the late 19th century. Kipling deals with India in all of its bewildering diversity: the various religious communities, the cities and the rural areas, the plains and the mountains, the influence of the British on India and of India on the British. The other aspect of Kim which will remain with me is Kipling's treatment of the theme of identity. Kim has to find where he belongs in a land where social standing is determined by family, by caste and by religion. His questioning of his identity at various points in the novel is immensely moving. What I'll also take from Kim is the love for India and its people which Kipling clearly brought to the writing of the novel.

Sam Dastor's narration is amazing. He has a distinct voice for each character. Indeed, he subtly (and in relation to one character not so subtly) alters voices depending on whether the character is speaking English or Hindi or Urdu. I am persuaded that listening to the novel rather than reading it significantly increased by appreciation of the work. Listening to Kim has been a very enjoyable experience, up there in 4-1/2 star territory.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Chrissie Hey, maybe I should try this!!!! looks good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I will read your review first though.


message 2: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm Sounds interesting. I guess it's stood the test of time.


message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Gary wrote: "Sounds interesting. I guess it's stood the test of time."

It's a novel very much of its place and time, Gary, but a very interesting one nonetheless. Apparently Jawaharlal Nehru (India's first Prime Minister) said that it was his favourite novel. In the novel the Indians (or at least the non-Europeans) are much more sympathetically portrayed than the Europeans, with a couple of notable exceptions.


message 4: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum As a child, I loved Kipling. Of course, all the politics washed right over the top of my head; I neither knew (nor cared) about any of it! What I loved was the way he used words to build such satisfying stories. Some of them were silly and fun and some were scary with dark moments, but I always trusted him to bring me home safely. I think that undercurrent of "right and wrong" was part of the deep attraction I felt for him.
It's been a loooong time since I've re-visited him, but you've re-awakened my old love, Kim! I'll have to find a copy of "Kim" and read it again.


message 5: by Alison (new)

Alison Smith Kim is one of my all-time favourites; re-read several times. Initially I loved it for the story, the "Indianness" of it all. A more recent visit showed me he Buddhist teachings, which I loved. I'll be reading it again ... and again ...


David Friedman Kim is, among other things, striking evidence that the conventional rejection of Kipling as an imperialist is wrong. The Lama is a convincing portrait of a saint. The Indian characters are, on the whole, more admirable than the English. Lots more evidence can be found in the poetry, starting with "The Ballad of East and West" for anyone who reads past the first two lines, routinely quoted out of context.


Tricia Maybe I should look for the edition you reviewed. The narrator in the Blackstone Audio version does not change voices at all!


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