The Portable Kipling
by Rudyard Kipling, Irving Howe (Editor)
I do love Rudyard Kipling’s writing, but I found this book difficult to get through. It took me a year to read little by little through all of the short stories and poems and essays, because I didn’t enjoy most of them.
Most of the time the setting of the stories were so entirely foreign to me that I had a hard time understanding what was going on. There are so many references to historical things and cultural ideas in India that are not explained. The author assumes that the reader already knows about these things, and so it is not clear to a modern reader what is happening. Unless you know the entire history of the British occupation of India and every battle and political upset from the 1800s, you will likely be lost.
I guess Kipling was writing for a very particular set of people- British soldiers and statesmen who had lived or visited India. They have their own lingo and slang for things, and if you don’t know the unique words they used, then their dialogue is difficult to follow.
I wish the footnotes did a better job of explaining these things. There are some footnotes, but not nearly enough.
Another reason why I did not enjoy most of the stories is that many of them are depressing, dealing with death and illness. The way Kipling approaches the subject of death is very dry and stark. There is not much hopefulness in the mood of the stories. It’s just despairing and sad.
I liked the poems a little better, many of which talk about Picts and Romans from ancient times. But a lot of the poems were written from the perspective of dead soldiers, so that was also depressing. The essays were mostly forgettable.
Overall, I think I will stick to the “Jungle Books” and novels like “Kim” and “Captains Courageous”, which are definitely his best works. I don’t particularly recommend his short stories.