Monday, August 23, 2010

The Great Game

I finished Rudyard Kipling's Kim. For a long while I found Kim a bit annoying in his smugness, but I warmed to the character through the relationship with his lama, to whom he remained so loving and devoted in what seemed a very un-British way. I also enjoyed Kipling's descriptions of the landscape and the culture of pre-partition India; whatever one may think of his imperial attitude, you get the feeling that his connection to this place and time was very deep and something close to his heart and identity.

I have only a nodding acquaintance with the Great Game intrigues that move the plot and found the details hard to follow, so as one book always leads me down the rabbit hole to the next, I just got Peter Hopkirk's history, The Great Game, from the library to help me out. I always find myself wanting a map when I read novels like this. It's funny to read those place names -- Lahore, Peshawar, Kashmir -- and think how little has changed. The players have changed only nominally. The West is still trying to gain control in a place that has never in its history been tractable to outsiders, whether it was the British, or the Russians, or the Americans. Fascinating? Depressing? Will we ever manage to untangle ourselves from that formidable landscape and complicated past?

Kipling had his idealized Kim, master of all those "Asiatic" mysteries, leaving his adult future, mercifully, to the reader's imagination. And we have the sad story of Pat Tillman as our modern-day pawn in yet another iteration of the Great Game. I know that history and the current political situation are too complex to boil down into such easy parallels -- still, it is poignant to have one in mind while reading the other. It reminds you that Kipling is not just some dusty, old Victorian writer who's strictly out of mode, but in fact, someone who still has something meaningful to say to the 21st century reader.

No comments: