Kipling is a controversial author these days, seen as an unapologetic imperialist booster of the British Empire and even racist. Yet Indian authors such as Arundhati Roy, V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie have found Kipling impressive and even influential. Kipling can be a wonderful storyteller. Rushdie has said Kipling's writing has "the power simultaneously to infuriate and to entrance."
I found that the case in both <i>The Jungle Books</i> and now <i>Kim</i>. And yes, you can see a, shall we say, very un-PC sensibility there, but my overall impression was Kipling's great love for India, which he knew intimately:
<i>The diamond-bright dawn woke men and crows and bullocks together. Kim sat up and yawned, shook himself, and thrilled with delight. This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it - bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye. The morning mist swept off in a whorl of silver, the parrots shot away to some distant river in shrieking green hosts: all the well-wheels within ear-shot went to work. India was awake, and Kim was in the middle of it.</i>
Kim is an orphan who was born Kimball O'Hara, the son of an Irishman who served as a sergeant in the British Army in India. He grows up in the streets of Lahore in the Punjab, where he is known as "the Little Friend of the World" and more fluent in the languages of India than English. If there's one indelible impression the book makes, it's in how it depicts the richness and diversity of India, with so many different languages, ethnicities and faiths. And in this book at least, the Indians and Asians certainly do not come across as stereotypes and those Europeans who refuse to learn from them are scorned. <i>Kim</i> also is about the "Great Game" of espionage and a coming of age adventure story about an unforgettable character not yet seventeen at the end of the book. I certainly can see traces of <i>Kim</i> in books as diverse as Robert Heinlein's <i>Citizen of the Galaxy</i> and Kaye's <i>The Far Pavilions.</i> This was a completely absorbing read.