I had heard of Rudyard Kipling and his Jungle Book series but I had not read any book by him when I came across “Kim” and the picture on the cover attracted me. The picture of an old Lama with so many lines on the face as though they are telling tales of his getting old along with a kid who is curious about everything in life itself tells you that it is going to be an interesting book. This book is also considered one of the best 100 books of 20th century.
This is a story of Kim who is son of British parents but is orphan and lives a life of street kid in Lahore in late 19th century India. He came across an aged Tibetan Lama who is in quest of enlightenment and both of them take a journey on Grand Trunk Road. Kim is also doing some work for British Secret Service who were in conflict with Russians over central asia at that time after the Afghan war. The story has many twists and turns where Kim is identified and separated from Lama and sent to school but they meet again and go on another quest. The mix of secret service work that Kim is doing and the spiritual quest that Lama is pursuing is very interesting.
The important aspect of the book is in its detailed account of India at that time. Kipling has done a great job in describing the lifestyle, people, markets, roads, cities of that time. I have read some other books of similar genre like “The Far Pavilions” by M.M.Kaye and these books always excite me. I would rate Far Pavilions to be much better.
Of course, I was also very much interested in the city of Umballa (Ambala) which is an important milestone in journey of Kim. Reading about the city of 19th century was great because I myself have a very deep connection with this city.
After “The Far Pavillions” from M. M. Kaye, I had read some of her other mystery novels primarily related to murders in African countries. I was searching for “Shadow of the Moon” for a long time but did not find it anywhere. Finally I was able to read it last year. The theme of this book and “The Far Pavillions” is similar in many aspects but it does not bind you as much as the story of Ashton and Princess Juli.
This is a story set during Indian War of Independence of 1857 from British-Raj. Captain Alex Randall is escorting Winter de Ballesteros from England to India as she is set to marry his boss but he ends up falling in love with her. How their love prospers in the backdrop of Indian revolt and war and how they manage to escape alive and eventually find their true love is the story of “Shadow of the Moon”.
As usual, Kaye has portrayed her characters very well and she is able to show the sensitivity of situation during that time. Britishers were ruling India and at personal level they had very good relationship with Indians but at the same time, there was tension as is bound to happen between rulers and ruled. Finally, that tension erupted into full war and changed the relationship completely. For “Winter” who was born in India and who considered India to be her homeland, this was very difficult to digest.
The story does tend to get stretched and boring at times but still it is a great book to read. It tells you a lot about the clash of cultures that happened in India at that time.
I read this book many years ago on a recommendation from a friend. Before that I had not heard about the author or the book. When I saw the size of the book, I was not sure whether I will end up reading such a fat book. Before this book, I had kept “War and Peace” with me without reading for many years. But I will write about that experience some other time. “The far pavilions” is not a book that you want to put down once you start reading it. It was one of those books that really enhanced my interest in genre of “fictional history”.
The book is set in late nineteenth century in the period after 1857 war of Indian Independence and culminating in Second Anglo Afghan war by the end of century. I had not known much about that period of history and I got to know lot of things through this book. The character of Ashton is so well created that it feels very real, but that is one character which is completely fictional in the book. While reading the book, I could actually imagine each and every scene mentioned in my mind. The way small kingdoms worked, the way huge marriage processions went from one part of the country to another, war with Afghans, simple traits of house servants, the way Britishers interacted with Indians is so well described that at no point you feel that image is being exaggerated for the narrative.
Of course, another highlight of the movie is the love story that develops between Ashton and Anjuli and how they meet after a gap of so many years. How Anjuli really suffers at the hands of her sister and how Ashton finally rescues her. The scene of sati that is described in the book really scared me giving me goosebumps.
Sometime back I found the movie adaptation of this book. I think it would have been better to assume that movie never existed. Not only it is a very badly mad movie, it really spoils the narrative of the book.
Anybody wanting to get a feel of that time of Indian history or just looking for a wild romantic journey should definitely read this book.