Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Exotic East

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 1-82

And so we usher in the reign of Mr. Kipling. I have to say, "children's adventure classic" doesn't actually seem the right thing to call this book. I'm pretty sure I would have hated it and stopped after twenty pages or so if I had read it when I were a child. Although, I have to admit that I absolutely loved "The Maltese Cat" at the age of eight, and that was also Kipling, though considerably shorter. (It's so good, you guys. It's about the strategy and tactics of a polo game, but it's told entirely from the horses' point of view. Man, I love that story.) Anyway, sort of archaic language and meandering plot don't really add up to children's adventure classic, if you ask me.

Kim, our young hero, is an orphaned Irish kid who's been raised in India by an Indian woman. He knew his father before he died and was told that he'd one day be taken into the British fold, as it were, because of his heritage. His father told him that a red bull on a green field would be the mark of his salvation and then promptly died. So, Kim pretty much acts like all the native Indian kids, in an impish gamin kind of way, until one day a holy man from Tibet wanders into town. Kim agrees to be the holy man's chela, or disciple, and help him find the sacred healing river that he's looking for as his great life quest. They head off into the countryside and wander around and we get to witness Kim's great resourcefulness at begging and endearing himself to the populace. That's pretty much all that happens for a long time. There's a lot of description of the Indian countryside and a lot of remarks that start with phrases like, "The white man could never..." or "Orientals always..." Eventually, Kim stumbles upon the Irish regiment from which his father hailed, which is represented by a flag featuring - you guessed it - a red bull on a green field. These humble Irish officers decide that Kim, as a white boy, needs to get some proper schooling from the bosom of mother England and appropriate him as their charge. The holy man goes off to continue his quest, and that's where we are. I assume we're going to watch Kim struggle with his identity as an Englishman, especially during the upcoming conflicts within the country.

I'm sort of ambivalent. It hasn't really captured my attention yet, but it's kind of endearing, in a way. I'm surprised at how universally racist Kipling is. He makes broad sweeping statements about everyone, which I guess makes him an equalizer of sorts. I was expecting a lot of anti-Indian sentiment, but if anything, Kipling admires the Indian people he discusses far more than the whites. That's really all I've got to say at this point.

I want there to be tigers. I'm kind of holding out for tigers.

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