Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Kipling’s Choice

Kipling’s Choice

Geert Spillebeen
Historical Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2002   ISBN: 978-0618800353

Even when his son John is still a little boy, Rudyard Kipling dreams of the day when the boy will go into the navy. He himself wanted to go into the military but was unable to do so because he had such poor eyesight. Both the father and the son are therefore devastated when they find out that John has inherited his father’s eye problems. Even the expensive Swiss eye specialists cannot offer a solution, and John and Rudyard are getting ready to resign themselves to sending John to a regular university when war breaks out. Perhaps under these circumstances things will be different the Kiplings hope.

So John tries to sign up but to no avail. His eyesight is just to bad the military people say. Rudyard decides to get some help. He talks to a friend or two. He is a famous author after all. Surely his fame can be of some use to help his son. And, at last, he is able to get his son a place as a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards.

On his eighteen birthday in the summer of 1915 John sails for France and it isn’t long before he is in the middle of the fighting in Belgium. He quickly discovers what a miserable, bloody, horrific business it is, and his men find out that they have a good officer in charge, a brave and compassionate leader who does his best by them and by the local people. John is not the kind of officer to let his men do all the dirty work. He goes where they go and he takes the same risks that they take. And, because of this, he gets mortally wounded in September and is declared missing.

This often terribly painful story is told from several points of view. We begin with John and we see how he gets wounded and how terrified he is and how much he suffers as he lies there, drifting in and out. As he drifts we are taken back in time and we are told his story. Every so often we come back to him and we are witness to his suffering and his thoughts as he dies on the battlefield. He cannot speak because of his injuries, but he can think and feel, and he can silently cry out for help. He does all of these things and more. Then, when John is gone, we hear the voices of others. We hear the voice of Rudyard Kipling as he tries to comes to terms with the loss of his son, and we the hear the voices of those who knew John and who try their best to tell his story to comfort a grieving father.

Without a doubt this is not a book for the soft hearted. The author does not try to pretty up his war images, instead he presents war as it is, horrific and brutal and a terrible waste. The author wants his readers to understand that all those pretty pictures of soldiers marching in formation in handsome uniforms have nothing to do with the real thing. Instead war is about loss, and always it is a lesson that people learn when it is too late.

Superbly written, this is a book which readers will remember long after they have read the last page.