Tonight I'm sipping on some Bernheim Wheat Whiskey...an odd, exotic whiskey that tastes nothing like bourbon, or Irish, or Scotch whiskey; instead it has some qualities of each. Which makes it a good pairing with "Kim", a novel of exotic India, which I thought was going to be a road trip story but has turned into a a spy novel. And a road trip story. When I last posted, Kim and his friend an old buddhist monk (lama) were traveling the countryside of 19th century British India, looking for a magical healing river which the lama says was created when Buddha split the ground with an arrow. Kim was going along for the ride, but all that changed when they came across a regiment of Irish soldiers. The regiment had as their flag a red bull on a green field, which matched a prophesy made by Kim's father before he died...that Kim would some day be attended to by hundreds of men lead by a red bull on a green field. Turns out this was Kim's father's regiment, and when they figure out who Kim is, they take him from the lama and decide to raise him as an Irish kid, instead of the somewhat feral Indian child he thinks he is. Well, Kim's not too happy about this, because he just wants to hang with the lama. Naturally, complications ensue, and the commanders of the regiment figure out just how wily and street-smart Kim is, which makes them realize he'd be a great spy! So they send him to a good school, paid for by his friend the lama, and he gets to travel India with the lama during holidays. He learns to read and write, and eventually graduates and can become a spy. Kim digs this...he gets to use his acting and "people skills", he can still travel around with his lama buddy, and he quickly becomes good at what he does. He and his fellow spies refer to their endeavors as "The Great Game".
I find this a curious book. First, as I mentioned previously, I sometimes find it hard to follow. Sometimes there will be a conversation, and I'll think "Woah...is it the whiskey or do I just have no idea what these people are trying to say to one another". Then I'll realize I haven't even had any whiskey. And then, a page or two later, everything is clear again. Not sure if this is due to Kipling's style, or whether it's just ADD kicking in. Regardless. it's disconcerting. Then there's the problem of a lot of vernacular in the book. There are a bunch of different types of people, English (white), Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and each of them seems to have their own nickname...pahari, faquir, sahib, pathan, etc. While exotic and colorful, it's also hard to follow. An annotated version of this book would be an excellent help. There's also the issue of politics...just who is spying on who in "The Great Game"? We all know Britian ruled India in the 1800s, but who were they spying on? We get some clues...rebellious kings, Russians, but the historical background is unknown to me.
The joys of this book, though, for me are two-fold: the character of Kim, and his friendship with the lama. Kim is incredibly likeable...young, smart, sassy, clever, often irreverent, wise beyond his years. People in the book like him a lot too, and his nickname is "Friend of all the World". The lama is old, innocent, pure at heart. Kim is very much of this world, while the lama is mostly on a more spiritual plane and is usually quite naive in dealings with other people. So far Kim can travel with the lama and work as a spy on occasion, and the lama is none the wiser. But Kim totally loves the lama, and vice versa...their bond, as master and pupil, as well as two companions, is deep and moving, despite (or perhaps because of) the great differences between the two. Kim definitely has an issue with his identity, or lack thereof...although he's technically white (a sahib), he doesn't relate to any one ethnicity or caste. He's ambiguous, which, of course, makes him great spy material.
Anyway, I have about 60 pages left. I'm quite curious to see how this all ends up. Of course, I'll be sure to let you know.