The January selection for our book club is Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901). I'm finding it very interesting, and Kipling's knowledge of the country of his birth which he left at a young age is amazing. Also enlightening are the notes and introduction in my used paperback copy (Penguin, 1987) by Edward Said, probably read by thousands of high school and college students in the last 25 years. Dinesh D'Sousa calls Edward Said Obama's founding father.... "One of Obama’s founding fathers who remains relatively unknown is the Palestinian radical Edward Said. Prior to his death in 2003, Said was the leading anti-colonial thinker in the United States. Obama studied with Said at Columbia University and the two maintained a relationship over the next two decades."
Said is actually an excellent writer, and I’m thankful to have his critical analysis of a novel 110 years old. But as a man without a country, a U.S. immigrant always unhappy with his adopted home, he reminds me so much of all the transient (in soul and sometimes body) faculty and foreign students I knew at the University of Illinois in the 1950s-60s. Because I was a foreign language major many of my instructors were emigres—driven from homeland by politics or war. First degree relatives shot, burned or imprisoned, never to be seen again. The cultural heritage of centuries ripped away. Many of my classmates came to the U.S. as “displaced persons” as toddlers or children after WWII--grateful for their lives, but always mourning what had been lost to Stalin, or Mao, or Hitler, or Tito, etc. Some had been ethnic Chinese whose families had lived for years outside China, sort of double displacement.
No matter what is good in the novel Kim, Said can't get past British imperialism, as Obama can't get past what he calls American imperialism. One can substitute Said's situation for what he says about colonial powers/Kim's: "For what one cannot do in one's own [homeland--anywhere in the middle east or Asia] where to try to live out the grand dream of a successful quest is only to keep coming up against one's own mediocrity and the world's corruption and degradation, one can do abroad." (p. 42 introduction, Penguin ed.) I think Said enjoyed his tiny celebrity status as the ultimate anti-colonialist, and he would have been a nobody in any other country without the give and take and freedom of speech he was allowed in the U.S. and classrooms filled with adoring disciples ready to deny anything good in Western civilization.