Friday, August 30, 2019

My Washington Times Review Of 'If: The Untold Story of Kipling's American Years'

The Washington Times published my review of If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years.

As a teenager in the 1960s I was caught up in the spy craze created by the James Bond films. In addition to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, I read many other spy thrillers and I watched spy stories on TV and at the movies. But it was as a pre-teen in the 1950s that I read my first great spy story, which was Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim.”

I later met many military and civilian intelligence officers who also read and loved “Kim.”

In Kipling’s 1901 novel, the son of an Irish soldier in India named Kimball O’Hara, known as Kim, is a wayward street urchin living in Lahore. He meets Mahbub Ali, a horse trader and spy, who has Kim deliver a secret message to a British military intelligence officer. And so Kim’s adventures in espionage and what Rudyard Kipling coined “The Great Game” began.

Although “Kim” takes place in India, where Kipling was born and later worked as a newspaper reporter and short story writer, he wrote the first draft of “Kim” in America.

In Christopher Benfey’s “If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years,” we learn of Rudyard Kipling’s affection for America and his life here.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865 and educated in England. Readers have always associated this towering writer with colonial India, where he spent his early childhood and his literary apprenticeship, and with England, where he lived, in relative isolation, during the final decades of his life. Few readers are familiar with his exuberant American years, however, during the heart of the American Gilded Age. 

And yet Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book,” “Captain Courageous,” the first draft of “Kim,” his first “just so stories,” and some of his greatest poems on the crest of a Vermont hillside overlooking the Connecticut River, with a view of Mount Monadnock “like a gigantic thumbnail pointing heavenward,” Christopher Benfey writes in his prologue. “A principal aim of this book is to introduce today’s readers to a largely unfamiliar writer: The American Kipling.”

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Note: The top photo is of Rudyard Kipling and the above photo is of actor Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling in John Huston’s fine film adaption of Kipling’s story, The Man Who Would Be King. Flanking Plummer are Michael Caine and Sean Connery.   

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