Tuesday, December 12, 2017

55. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I found it for 50 cents at a bazaar
probably the worst cover possible
When doing a 50-book challenge, you must never forget that past performance is no indication of future results.  No matter how much momentum you have going, no matter how many books you are cranking through in a month, no matter how good you are feeling about your long-term book reading prospects, there is always the potential for it all to come undone.

I was project myself into the mid-60s this year, given my excellent summer and fall of reading.  Ah, the arrogance!  A daycare father who works at Ubisoft kindly gave me the new Assassins Creed: Origins game.  I am not a big gamer, but will dive in every now and then.  The second to last Tomb Raider and Stardew Valley were two I really got into in the last couple of years and I was slowly working my way through Rime, an obscure and relaxing exploration puzzle game.  I was not ready to be blindsided by Assassin's Creed, as I thought my days of obsessing over videogames were long behind me.  Oh man, this game has sucked me in.  There is nothing particularly original about it overall.  You play a dude in ancient egypt who has to fulfill a bunch of quests or can just wander around the land, exploring, causing trouble, hunting and so on.  You upgrade your gear, increase your skills and see more territory.  It's just that it is all done so well and richly. The visuals are beautiful and sneaking up on a guard encampent and taking them out with silent arrows is deeply satisfying.  See even in this review of an all-time literary classic, I am indulging myself by talking about this friggin' game.  All this to say, my reading rate has plummeted dramatically at the end of the year.

So thank goodness for my Google+ Roleplaying book club.  I had a commitment to them and it forced me to keep on reading Kim (an activity which would have required zero force a month ago).  What a strange and fascinating book.  I didn't know what to expect except that I knew it was considered a classic work of fiction in the colonial period.  Kim is a young British boy raised on the streets of India, happy in his life.  He meets a wandering Lama from Tibet and decides to be his Chalesh, the boy who begs for the monk.  He is also on the side taking jobs from a horse trader who is an agent in the Great Game.  Much of the first half of the book is Kim and the Lama making their way across Northern India, seeing and interacting with the rich culture.  In the second half, there is a more specific spy mission that he goes on, although even that seems sort of subsumed under the business of his interaction with all the various characters and locations.

I found it hard to read at times, partly because the language has so many references to cultural things from Colonial India that I don't know.  Also because Kipling makes transitions very subtly.  He doesn't tell you when people leave conversations or move to a different location and you have to infer it from the dialogue.  There were also some really great moments, like the amazing description of the Grand Trunk Road and the hilarious insult exchanges between Kim and various locals.

I need to study the history of India more.

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