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#78…Kim

May 2, 2010

“I tell you I am fearful man, but, somehow or other, the more fearful I am the more dam-tight places I get into.”

I was actually introduced to Kim about twenty years ago without knowing it, when, as a Brownie Girl Scout, we played “Kim’s Game”. This game consisted of putting several different objects into a shallow box, that is initially covered over with a cloth. The cloth is removed for a minute or so, and your job is to look at everything in the box, try to remember as much as you can about what’s in the box and what it looks like, and then write it all down when the minute is up and the box gets covered back up. The more you remember, the more likely you are to win.

Kim’s Game is only a small part of Rudyard Kipling’s novel. Kim is introduced to us as an Indian orphan who steps up to help a Tibetan Lama, who is on a quest to find a special river. The lama believes bathing in the river will remove all sin. Kim joins his quest, as he is also on a quest to find a red bull on a green background, which his father told him will come to help him. Kim and the lama set out on the Great Trunk Road, which is sort of the Indian version of a superhighway, and along the way, Kim unknowingly becomes involved in some espionage for the British through his horse-trader friend Mahbub Ali. They later stumble upon his father’s Irish regiment, the Mavericks….whose flag has a red bull with a green background. Kim is ‘adopted’ by this regiment when it is discovered that the documents he has always worn around his neck show that he is part Irish. He is sent to a school for white children with the lama’s money, where he learns English and is to be trained to be a surveyor. However, Kim is unable to let go of his Indian upbringing, and sneaks off on his vacations to spend time with Mahbub and his friend Mr Lurgan, learning about espionage and spying.

At the end of his schooling, he returns to the lama and their quest to find the river for 6 months before he will begin working for the government. He means to stay as the lama’s student or ‘chela’, but along the way he discovers another spy, Hurree Babu, and saves him from danger. They track two Russian spies, and meet up with them, and when one of them attacks the lama, Babu takes the two men away so that Kim can take their notes, maps and letters. He and the lama continue to look for the river, but the lama becomes ill and so does Kim. At the end, the lama finds his river, Kim turns over the letters and maps to Babu and the government and everyone is happy.

In summary: I did not enjoy this book. There were days when I did not read it at all, and days where I read half a page and that was it. I found myself completely unconcerned with the fate of any of the characters, none of whom resonated with me. If they had all died at the end, I wouldn’t have felt bad. Even the background ‘spy’ story wasn’t that compelling, but those sections were marginally more interesting to me than the parts where they were wandering around looking for the river. All of the foreign names of the characters began to blend together; I had to look back in the book more than once to make sure I had them straight.

This was the first book on the list so far where I debated whether or not to finish it. I have to say that feeling was a bit surprising. Before I read Kim, I thought I had read some of the worst books of all time (i.e. The Magus, The Ginger Man, Loving, etc). But oddly, at no point even during the 600+ pages of The Magus did it ever occur to me to stop reading. It made me wonder if the books I had read before that I didn’t like were actually all that bad. At least those books engendered feelings (even if it was irritation or hostility) whereas Kim was about as emotionally flatlined as you get. I would have a more emotional experience reading Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary than I did reading Kim. 🙂 I guess if there is any positive experience I got out of reading Kim, it would be that I learned something about myself and my reading preferences.

Well, I’m sure Kim will look like a trip to Paradise after I get started with my next epic adventure, Finnegan’s Wake. Look out for my new featurette, Surviving Finnegan, premiering this week.

Grade: D
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