In my first week of this reading challenge, I managed to cover the first two chapters of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Reading the novel hasn’t been very easy for a couple of reasons. The first is that the language seems a little dated. The novel is set in late 19th century British India and the language needs a little getting used to. The second is that the narrator’s voice and the way the characters in this novel communicate seem unnatural. I find this rather unsurprising given that the the characters are communicating in various vernacular languages, but eventually presented to the readers in English. I’m still getting the hang of reading the novel and I hope it gets less daunting over the next few chapters.
Why did I choose this book?
I didn’t buy this book, but rather took it off an ex-colleague who wanted to clear his shelf at work. I must have had it with me for at least six years. I’ve always read how Kim is generally regarded as one of Kipling’s finest works of literature. I knew I wanted to read it someday.
I’ve always been pretty fascinated about colonial British India. This has to do with my own heritage, but even more so when I studied post-colonial theory and literature (Po-co Lit) as an undergraduate.
I was introduced to Kipling (if I recall correctly) as part of a module on British literature and really enjoyed his collection of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills. (It is one of the books sitting on my shelf.) Nonetheless, I was surprised when my Po-co Lit tutor regarded Kipling with such disdain, illustrating to us how his works (though of great literary merit) reflected his racist attitude.
Initial thoughts on the novel
Though reading Kim is fascinating in that it vividly portrays life in colonial British India, you find instances of Kipling’s racism through the voice of the narrator:
“That would have been a fatal blot on Kim’s character if Mahbub had not known that to others, for his own ends or Mahbub’s business, Kim could lie like an Oriental.” (pg. 36)
“He stood in a gigantic stone hall paved, it seemed, with the sheeted dead – third-class passengers who had taken their tickets overnight and were sleeping in the waiting rooms. All hours of the twenty-four are alike to Orientals, and their passenger traffic is regulated accordingly.” (pg. 40)
Nonetheless, I do enjoy the description to the people of India seeing how I’m able to relate it. One of the main characters is Mahbub Ali, an Afghan (Pathan) horse trader and British agent. On Afghans, the narrator notes:
“That north country is full of horse-dealers as an old coat of lice. There is Sikander Khan, Nur Ali Beg, and Farrukh Shah – all heads of kafilas [caravans] – who deal there…” (pg. 37)
I’m committed to seeing this book through, but perhaps may put it down for now in favour of another.
Reading Progress: 59/383 pages (15.4%)
Reading Pleasure: 2/5 (Pass me the coffee..)