15 November 2007

Kim - Rudyard Kipling

http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Books/Pix/covers/2005/04/27/kim1.jpg

We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but really, don't we all do this? Growing up, I use to go to the public library and would stay out of the horror section, as the books' covers would give me nightmares - of course, little has changed. Nowadays, I try to find books whose front covers have hot women on them. Usually if I'm reading science fiction, a third nipple will sell the book. With this in mind, how am I judge the above cover? Rather, how am I to be judged (or perhaps sentenced would be more apropos) for having read such a book?

Enough with the felony charges and on to the book itself. Kim, ostensibly labeled as children's literature, is a multifarious novel by the creator of the Jungle Book. In 1907 Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature - in so doing, he became the first British winner. Few writers of the time personified all that it was to be British at the turn of the Century. Born in India and educated in England, Kipling represents the success and failures of the colonial spirit and British imperialism. For evidence one need look no further than his writings, Kim in particular.

Kim is the story of one Kimball O'Hara, the son of a drunk Irishman, raised as a beggar and street urchin in India. He becomes the chela (servant) to a Tibetan Monk, whose spiritual search for a river will lead him to enlightenment. Along their journey, Kim becomes a form of junior spy, employed by the British government in the Great game. [PAUSE]. Now I consider myself a fairly well versed historian, but until reading this novel, I had never heard of this "great game". So, this brief history lesson is brought to you by the letter G:

The Great Game was a battle for diplomatic supremacy in Central Asia waged between the British and the Russians. I'm not sure how 'real' the actual struggle was, but there is no doubt that both sides had spies all over the "stans" and into India. Many a British foreign diplomat was engaged in thwarting their Russian counterparts in the race for the control of future Sasha Baron Cohen's movie rights.....

Lesson over - the bottom line, Kim - the character not the eponymous book - becomes engaged in the Great Game. In one of his training regime's, he must memorize the items in a tray and then recite them back after a short viewing, a la Survivor style. This game is still known as "Kim's Game" in British spy training. The novel essentially becomes an adventure race through India, with a side of religious spiritualism - all very enlightening.