Quest for Kim (Anglais) Broché – 27 mars 2006
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'This beautifully written and beguiling travel book will fascinate even those who have never read Kim' (Scotsman)
Présentation de l'éditeur
This book is for all those who love Kim, that masterpiece of Indian life in which Kipling immortalized the Great Game. Fascinated since childhood by this strange tale of an orphan boy's recruitment into the Indian secret service, Peter Hopkirk here retraces Kim's footsteps across Kipling's India to see how much of it remains.
To attempt this with a fictional hero would normally be pointless. But Kim is different. For much of this Great Game classic was inspired by actual people and places, thus blurring the line between the real and the imaginary. Less a travel book than a literary detective story, this is the intriguing story of Peter Hopkirk's quest for Kim and a host of other shadowy figures.
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The essence of this volume is Hopkirk's search in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan and northern India for Kipling's Kim. While few of the characters in Kim have direct historical parallels, there were models Kipling drew on for many of them. Kim himself was probably based an orphan of mixed parentage; his father was probably a British army soldier and his mother a Tibetan. Colonel Creighton was probably modeled off of Colonel Montgomerie of the Survey of India, while Lurgan
is believed to be modeled off of A. M. Jacob, a notorious jeweler in Simla. St. Xavier's in Lucknow was probably the source for La Martiniére.
Hopkirk does an excellent job in setting Kim into the Great
Game-the Russo-English rivalry over Afghanistan and the Anglo-French rivalry over the India trade. Throughout the book he also discusses whether Kipling was a racist or not. Unlike many critics who would judge Kipling by today's standards, Hopkirk tries to judge him the mores and values of Victorian England.
On finishing "Quest for Kim", one may be left with the feeling that the historical information contained therein could have been greater in both quantity and detail. One will certainly not feel greatly informed on the literary qualities of "Kim", beyond that Hopkirk is extremely impressed by them. "Quest for Kim" is not a great scholarly tome, but it is an enjoyable read, encompassing a light, welcoming introduction to a study of British India and "Kim" itself wrapped in a pleasant narrative of one man's brief travels through Pakistan and India.
In "The Quest for Kim", by Peter Hopkirk, the author might be thought of as Kipling's Chela. The book is devoted to exploring the writing of the novel Kim, by Rudyard Kipling.
Few writers are better qualified to write,"The Quest for Kim", than Peter Hopkirk. A noted historian of border intrigue in Asia, he is a splendid source for a novel which is among many other things the most famous spy-story ever written. In Kim, the hero is a small street orphan familiar with the ways of the city. Among other things he is what is called a "cut-out" in spy jargon (a minor local asset - like a street rat in an Indian city, like the hero). He does his work mostly for Mahbub Ali, the swashbuckling Pathan border-spy and horse trader who comes down from the mountains every once in awhile bringing horses to sell, and information for the Imperial government. At the beginning Kim also makes friends with such figures as the Red Lama, an endearing old man from Tibet. He becomes, as the Lama says, his "Chela", and looks after him for the Lama is not a very streetwise character, and needs more than a little protection. At the same time he carries a message for Mahbub Ali, thus setting up as a theme for the rest of the story the tension between the two worlds, which is left completely unresolved in the end. No one knows which path Kim takes and perhaps
that is the best ending.
In The Quest for Kim, Peter Hopkirk goes through India and Pakistan, and ruffles through old records, exploring the real-life ideas that he believed to have been the inspiration for ideas in Kim. This is a fascinating exercise and well worth the reading.
There really is a giant cannon rusting away in retirement at
the city where the story begins. The "wonder-house" (as it is called) is of course the museum where Kipling's father was curator. And so on. Other things were harder to identify, especially characters - the author tends to believe that the characters were inspired by real people.
Hopkirk's tale of his travels is well worth reading. It is both a giant book review, and a travel story and it succeeds on both counts.
Rudyard Kipling's "formation" novel "Kim" is one of the most loved books of English literature (I personally read it over 10 times) and many of its readers have asked themselves if the plot and characters are true or imaginary. Well, Peter Hopkirk went further and actually explored the possibility that every single aspect of the novel was inspired by real people and happenings.
After a brief introduction that updates on early and modern critical appraisal of RK's novel (colonialism? Racism? Orientalism?) we are introduced to the principal characters and a plot synopsis of the book. Kim would be half RK himself and half a mysterious Anglo-Tibetan "Doola" (from Doolan) a half-caste born from a British soldier that had eloped with a Sikkim girl and had gained some newspaper fame during the period RK was working in Lahore. Teshoo Lama really existed and had visited Kipling's father Lockwood, the Curator of the Lahore Museum, when Kipling was a child. Mahbub Ali as well was a real person, a horse dealer in the Sultan Sarai that used to visit Kipling when in Lahore. The Te-rain still runs today even if interrupted at the Pakistanian-Indian frontier, and the whole line has witnessed atrocious bloodshed during the Separation in 1947. The Colonel's Bungalow in Umballa is almost impossible to trace but some similar still stand in memory of colonial England. Colonel Creighton was definitely inspired by Colonel Thomas Montgomerie of the Survey of India a great spy master whose few selected pundits made the story of the Great Game. Huree Chunder Mookerjee Babu among these was probably a Bengali graduate from the University of Calcutta named Babu Sarot Chandra Das towards whom Kipling had an ambiguous feeling describing him as physically repulsive but extremely intelligent. The real Babu was one of the major experts on Tibet and wrote a Tibetan-English Dictionary. St. Xavier, Kim's school, was modelled on La Martiniere as recognized by many of those that had attended this prestigious institution. Lurgan Sahib, and here comes the surprise, was the mysterious A.M.Jacob, a jewel dealer, occultist and hypnotist of Madame Blavatsky stature and owner of the famous Victoria diamond later known as Jacob's diamond. Jacobs appears also in other Nineteenth Century novels such as "Mr. Isaacs" by F.Marion Crawford and in Newnham Davies' "Jadoo".
Of the Russian and French spies Hopkirk surely identifies the Frenchman as a certain Bovalot that penetrated into India from the North and maybe the Russian as the famous Captain Gromchevsky who went out to meet Younghusband on the Himalaya.
The Great Game was in full progress in the years 1865-1875, when the novel is set and greater information is present in the book. But what captures the reader most is the feeling of living anew Kim's adventure for the second (or the hundredth if you prefer) time in an exponential form.
Truly a great companion book to RY's chef d'oeuvre "Kim".
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