Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tonic water all around!

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 143-247 (end)

There weren't any tigers. I'm sad. There was some more spying though, so I suppose that's something. Just after we learn about Kim's success in school and the holy man's current status, Kim finishes school (or at least his guardians say he's done enough) and he heads off for a six-month peregrination with his holy man father figure. At some point during the last several years of off-and-on hanging out with the jewelry repair guy, it seems Kim also managed to learn about medicine. The jewelry repair guy is quite the renaissance man, apparently. Anyway, so after being giving a gun by said jewelry repair guy (because, apparently, at 16 years old, it's a shame that he didn't have a gun already), Kim heads out to find his holy man and seek the old sacred river. In addition to his gun, though, he's given some more secret messages and spy-type documents to carry around in order to prove his British-spy pedigree if he needs to.

He and the holy man set out on their quest, during which Kim cures some innocent children and beggars with his fancy British medicine, and they meet another spy who informs them of Russian conspirators in the area. After some more pointless wandering around (Is anyone sensing a theme, here? I mean, come on. I had to use the word peregrination. That's not really supposed to happen. Ok, with anyone but me.) they stumble on the Russian spies and have a confrontation with them. The Russians (and for some reason, one French guy), don't actually know that they're British spies, and just harass them for no good reason, but end up insulting and injuring the holy man. This makes Kim incredibly angry, and, in the end, the Russians come out of it unconscious and stripped of all material goods, including secret espionage documents.

Kim escorts the injured holy man, who seems in peril for his life, to the house of a previous acquaintance. There, Kim finds a British contact whom he can trust and hands off the espionage materials, ensuring himself fancy British laurels when he returns to the city, and the holy man finally has an epiphany about his river, which is actually the great river of all life (and boy, am I shocked about that). It ends with Kim questioning the point of all the spying and the legitimacy of British involvement, but rejoicing in the holy man's happiness.

No overarching plot really developed, other than that we sort of came back around to the holy river quest again. I suppose spying was something of a thread, but a weak one at best. I don't know. Maybe I need to be a 12-year-old British kid or something, but I didn't find the novel very compelling. The most interesting part was watching Kim switch back and forth from British sahib to Indian peasant kid and examining the various circumstances in which each role suited him. It seemed that any time he wanted to spy or do something underhanded, being an Indian peasant was best, but if he needed to exert authority or look respectable, being British was best. I think Kipling was actually making an interesting point with that, in that the situation was made ironic by the fact that all of Kim's deceitful activities were demanded of him by the British army, yet they required an Indian guise. It was his British self that was the most underhanded, but he had to appear Indian in order to carry out those deeds. When he appeared British, he never really did anything wrong. Veneer of civilization, much? And if you look at the most Indian of the Indians, the holy man, he was an upstanding model of a quest for spiritual enlightenment. I'm not saying Kipling's a righteous model of race-consciousness or anything (I mean, the number of times he makes huge general statements about "Asiatics" is off-putting in itself.), but he's certainly making a point to his British reader that he or she ought to think about coming down off the pedestal of civilization. Kim curing people with quinine and other British medicine is a contrast to that point, and Kipling seems critical of the Indian dependency on the idea of sympathetic magic, so it goes both ways, really. (I was also surprised that he actually used the terminology of "sympathetic" for it. Apparently he was off reading The Golden Bough in his spare time.)

Definitely not worthy of the top 100 list. I feel that making the list actually requires having a plot. Tigers might have pushed him over the line, though. (Not really. But there would have been tigers. I call that a win.)

More Sinclair Lewis next. I'm sort of looking forward to it because I liked him so much before, but I'm hoping it won't be utterly downcast and depressing. At least Kim was kind of upbeat.

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