I know, I took forever since I mentioned I was reading this over at FOAF, but it was a nice meander through India. Reading it a few pages here and there at lunch when I didn't have a library book or in line at the bank didn't hurt this at all. It just made it more as if I'd been on the long journey along with Kim and his old man.
If you want to read it too, Project Gutenberg has it free:
The story begins in Lahore where young Kimball O'hara is an orphan of about 13 who has mostly grown up on the streets. Kim meets an old lama from Tibet who is on a quest for a river that will cleanse all sins and grant enlightenment. He is intrigued by this mad old foreigner and becomes his guide. He agrees to go with the old man on his journey, excited about traveling and seeing new things.
But Kim, "The Friend of All the World", has been taking small jobs from a Muslim horse trader who just happens to be part of the British Secret Service and Mahbub Ali desperately needs someone who can get a message to his superiors and Kim's trip couldn't come at a better time. This mission ultimately leads Kim to become an active player in "The Great Game" between Britain and Russia.
The espionage stuff is fun but it's the characters that Kim meets on his travels and during the years of his subsequent training and first mission as a full agent that really make this book. It's loaded with eccentrics, including a cameo by Kipling's own father. They are all presented with a fond indulgence, even the hapless Russian agents towards the end.
The ending is ambiguous as to what will happen next. Will a now 16 (or maybe it's 17, I lost track) year old Kim continue as an agent or will he go to Tibet with his Lama, who has become a father figure to him, and become a monk himself? There is no official sequel to tell us.
I think perhaps a bit of each. He could go with the old man take care of him in his few remaining years, taking occasional missions as opportunity and need arose, and then devote himself to The Game, once he's gone. I just couldn't bear it if he had to be separated from the only person who ever showed him parental love.
This book as one of the best ending lines I've ever read but I'm not going to spoil it by quoting it. You need to have read the whole book for it to have the impact that it does.
This is marketed as a children's book but I really think that it's beyond all but older teens even though there is nothing to offend and the story is mostly told as a straight forward coming of age adventure tale. There are many deep concepts from Buddhism that really put me off when I tried to read it at 16 because Kipling rarely stops to explain. You really need to either have read a bit about the basics of the faith or be willing to live with not understanding certain bits in order to enjoy this.