This 1901 novel is the primary central fiction of Rudyard Kipling’s career. He wrote other novels like Captain Courageous, Gunga Din, and obviously The Jungle Book(s), and he was of course quite well known as a poet — famously for “If” and infamously for “The White Man’s Burden.” And he would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature 5 or so years after this was published — the first writer in English to do so.
So this novel follows Kim, a boy of mixed heritage (“half-caste”) — an Indian mother and an Irish father of the British Army — in the 1880s. The novel follows Kim as a boy trying to both make his way in the world and figure out his place in the world. Because of his various hybrid status, he’s both politically and spiritually lost. He follows a handful of different religious leaders. He follows various military leaders. He’s quite intelligent and intuitive, but lacks Western education. And his political status is deeply fraught. There’s a moment late in the novel when he’s discovered by Catholic priests and his vaunted status as half-white gives him just enough standing to join the army and “make something of himself,” a horrifying concept (especially to Kim) to modern audiences that he earns enough place to die for England, but not enough to be English.
I wasn’t reading closely enough to do a careful analysis of the racial politics in this novel, but it’s safe to say they are….complicated at best. The tone is, however, sympathetic to Kim and neither plays him as foolish or tragic (regardless of whatever happens to him). Instead, there’s a clear effort to humanize him through, something many many British writers failed to do at the time of this writing or long after (and still do).