Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 4, 2020

Kim by Rudyard Kipling, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1907

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from Read the Nobels.

To see my progress with completing the Read the Nobels Challenge, see here.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1907

1st November, 2003

I enjoyed this.  It’s one of those classic books I always meant to read, one that’s part of my British heritage which is known around the world because of Kipling’s influence on the scouting movement.

Kim is a boy enlisted by chance to work for the British Secret Service in India. He is orphaned by a sick mother and a feckless Irish father in service in India, and he lives in the streets.  One day he is captured by the British, who find his ID papers in a scapula around his neck – and they send him off to school.  A certain Commander recognises his potential as an ‘agent’ because he is familiar with Indian street life and its languages.
Kim takes to the streets on a quest for enlightenment with a Buddhist Lama, but is able to serve His Majesty in various other ways as well, including acquiring precious papers implicating an Indian prince’s conspiracy with Russians to the north.  One of his accomplishments in to quell an Indian uprising and in this he is aided by Muhtab, a Muslim, and Hareem, a Hindi – and nowhere is their quisling role questioned.  (I read a similar short story to this in which a British boy singlehandedly quells a riot, in the collection titled The Man Who Would Be King, and no, it’s not ironic.)

Kipling was an old colonialist, after all, and everything I’ve ever read by this author champions the British Raj and the Empire.  It’s a fair bet that he’d never have got a Nobel Prize in these post-colonial days!

I finished reading it and journalled it on the 1st of November, 2003.


  1. I keep meaning to read Kipling but so far haven’t read anything by him.


    • There’s plenty on Gutenberg… try one of his short stories perhaps?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. He is a fascinating writer. And yes some of his attitudes are shocking to readers today, but then the context of the life always influences the writers of the time. The Just So Stories are gold.


    • Kipling shows me that it’s perfectly possible to read books representing attitudes that (presumably) none but a Brexiteer would subscribe to today, and yet not be influenced by them. He was a good storyteller.


  3. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    I had to study this book for O-levels donkey’s years ago. Without doubt it is imperialist through and through. However, I feel it was powerfully written and gave a magnificent insight to Indian cultures and the Great Game. I feel it was educative and in recent years I enjoy Kipling’s poetry.


    • How interesting… I’m guessing your teacher helped you to deconstruct it? In the hands of a good teacher, I do think that’s the way to deal with any books like this, because the process of unpacking the detrimental aspects as well the literary aspects is a technique we all need to learn, whatever we’re reading.
      (I read a terrific deconstruction of Gone with the Wind’s racism the other day, written by someone who loved the book as a girl and is horrified to read it as an adult. It was just how I felt about the film… as a teenager I swooned over Rhett Butler and cried when Scarlett suffered but on a recent flight when I watched it again I was so appalled I wrote to Virgin airlines and told them to stop showing it!)


  4. This has been on my To Read list for it seems like ever. Each time I think about reading it I start wondering whether it would be one of those books that is very much of its day but whose appeal has dwindled. Seems not to be the case based on your enjoyment


    • I think if you like the old 19th century type of adventure novel, and I do sometimes, then this will appeal.


  5. The youngest Nobel laureate ever. 😍


  6. I remember finding the Buddhist fable part of this novel intriguing, but much of the spy-adventure stuff I recall little about. Atmospheric, though. No need to say more about the imperialism. Heart of Darkness comes to mind. Still worth reading – both books. Wouldn’t do if we only read authors whose opinions chimed with our own.


    • I agree, and besides, it’s revealing of attitudes that need to be remembered…


  7. This is one that I had on my shelves, unread, since I was a girl, and I finally got around to it a couple of Christmas holidays ago. It wasn’t a match for my reading mood at the time, though I was glad to have finally read it, and I wondered if I would have enjoyed it more or less had I actually gotten to it when I was a kid. (The parable bits would have completely flown past me and I probably would have dutifully swallowed the colonial aspects of the story; I think I would have liked how knowing the boy seemed to be, in comparison to many of the older characters. LOL)


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