Monday, March 3, 2008

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Source: Librivox
Length:13 hr, 8 min
Adrian Praetzellis

The book: Kim by Rudyard Kipling is a meandering voyage with an Anglo-Indian boy and his Tibetan mentor through colonial India. Kipling provides a detailed portrait of India’s diversity of cultures, landscapes, languages, and races comparable to Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children.

Although Kipling is known as a colonialist writer, I found his characterization of the native people to be even with that of the English. Europeans are definitely in control, but the native population is able to get the upper hand through its knowledge of local dialect and customs. Superstition is gently ridiculed, but the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims are all portrayed more positively than the Anglican clergyman.

The problem with this journey is there is no drive to the narrative. Kipling never seems to instill the sense of danger that the plot calls for. Kim is set during the Great Game, when Russia and England were on the brink of war over Afghanistan. Kim’s story often intersects these larger events, but it never builds the tension reflective of an international conflict. We’re left with a story that promises adventure but delivers a travelogue. The quality of Kipling's characters and the few hints of excitement provide a novel that can be rewarding for those with patience.

Rating: 6/10

The reader: Adrian Praetzellis provides a crystal clear recording punctuated by distinctive voices for each character. This approach is entertaining but forces the listener to adopt the reader’s characterizations. For example, Praetzellis acts the Tibetan Lama as old man with a high-pitched sing-song voice. From the couple of times I’ve seen talks by the Dali Lama , I’d judge it an excellent imitation of a Tibetan holy man. But I wonder if I would have seen the character as less pitiable and more heroic if he had a sonorous rather than wheezy voice. With any text, voice actors, like their film and stage counterparts, must make decisions on their performances. Here, Praetzellis turns in a wonderful performance and makes the book much more entertaining than it would otherwise be.

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