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GirlGenius Suggests KIM by Rudyard Kipling -- children's literature?
It's about a kid, but is it for children?
Rudyard Kipling had an extraordinary life, and one of the books that resulted is "Kim". It was originally published in segments in over a 10-month period in McClure's Magazine (December 1900 to October 1901).
The title character was born in Lahore to white parents. At the time, Lahore was considered part of India, but it is now part of modern-day Pakistan. How interesting that politics play such a large part in the book itself, and continue to surround the story today.
Please let me make one thing clear -- I am here to discuss the merits of this book as "literature". Kipling himself became quite unpopular in his later life, because he did not want to see India independent of British rule. Perhaps like Kim, he had a difficult time deciding where "home" is -- India/Pakistan? Or Britain?
By removing Britain from India, Kipling no doubt saw a part of his life disappear. Politics touches all of our lives in a very personal way at times. "Kim" is about the life of a young boy who gets caught up in the political games being play in India (Pakistan) at the time,
Kim O'Hara was born to white parents in Lahore, as stated above. His father was an officer in the British military and leaves his son with some important papers. Orphaned at a young age, Kim learns to adapt to just about any situation. He learns "Hindustani" fluently. (We would call the language Hindi or Urdu -- when spoken both languages are very very similar).
He can pass for a Muslim, or a Hindu, and knows how to speak to literally everyone from all walks of life.. He befriends a traveling holy man -- Kim begs for food for them both and accompanies the holy man as he searches for a scared river.
Politics, religion, and culture all swirl about as Kim and the holy man travel together. Kim's true identity is revealed when some soldiers discover the papers he wears around his neck.
It is decided that Kim will attend the best British school. It is considered his "destiny" -- after all, wasn't he born to white parents?? However, Kim does not want to leave the holy man. He is much more of a father figure, and a friend, than anyone Kim has ever known.
While at the school, Kim is recruited to perform espionage. All his street smarts come into play, and he does the job quite well. He becomes aware of the larger world, just as this world itself is changing. Russia and Britain both want to get their hands on India (Pakistan).
Kim does not seem to have much of an opinion about this (he is still just a teenager), and clearly would rather simply follow the holy man. He manages, with the help of his friends, to get his hands on some very important papers from 2 Russian spies. These papers are safely delivered to the right people.
The end of the book has posed some problems for critics. The holy man does indeed finally find his sacred river, and comes back excitedly to tell Kim. Even better, the holy man has asked for special permission to bring Kim with him to enlightenment.
I believe that this is quite possible -- that the holy man found what he was searching for, and out of his great love for Kim made arrangements for the both of them to enter "heaven".
Some people are frustrated by the spiritual aspect of this book, but I really enjoyed it. The political intrigue can become the basis for many heated discussions in 2011, however in the book the facts are simply presented as background information.,
In the same way that Americans do not like to discuss the history of slavery in our country and the current state of race relations here, I can understand that the whole India/Pakistan/British issue can cause problems. However, when "Kim" is looked at as literature, and not forced into being some sort of political manifesto, its true value shines.
Although the main character is a child when we meet him, and barely a young man when the story ends, I would have difficult time labeling this "Children's Literature". The political and spiritual situations Kim gets involved in are complex. To say they are "adult" situations would give the wrong impression, but I will say that children would probably not understand them and become bored.
"Kim" is a beautiful book, and does a great job of presenting situations that we, the readers. have to digest. Issues of identity always fascinate me, and "Kim" provides a fascinating look at one boy's extraordinary journey. Highly recommended!!
Portrait of the Author
How important is your nationality to your sense of identity??
- Kim (1950) - IMDb
Directed by Victor Saville. With Errol Flynn, Dean Stockwell, Paul Lukas, Robert Douglas. 1