Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling
This was the perfect novel to read after having had a brief introduction to the history of the Great Game (reviewed here)
Kim (Kimball O'Hara) is the orphan son of a British soldier (Sahib). He lives wildly on the streets of Lahore and makes contact with the British secret service through Mahbub Ali, a horse trader, who is one of their native operatives. He then meets a Tibetan Lama who is on a quest to find a mystical River. Kim decides to travel with him and becomes the Lama's chela, or disciple. Mahbub Ali has also tasked him with the delivery of a crucial message along the way and this will be his first task as a spy.
"That may be well. We of the Loodhiana Sikhs," he rolled it out sonorously, "do not trouble our heads with doctrine. We fight."
Along the way, Kim is recognized by chaplain of his father's army regiment and sent to school in Lucknow, but keeps in touch with the Lama and also with his secret service connections. He is trained as a Sahib although in his holidays he continues with his wandering around India and trains in espionage.
Kim rejoins the lama and together they make a trip to the Himalaya, this time capturing papers from Russian spies but at the same time the Lama continues his spiritual quest. At the end of the novel, Kim is undecided between the spiritual life of the Lama and the life of action at which he excels.
The dichotomy of this novel is how Kiplings obvious love for India is measured against his Colonial attitudes towards it's people. Kim has grown up as a street urchin and yet his self-identity is is uncertain:
‘I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” His soul repeated it again and again.’
The writing in this book is incredibly rich, almost demoralizingly so. It is truly a classic and I urge you to read it at some point.