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It is set after the Second Afghan War which ended in 1881, but before the Third, probably in the period 1893 to 1898. The novel is notable for its detailed portrait of the people, culture, and varied religions of India. "The book presents a vivid picture of India, its teeming populations, religions, and superstitions, and the life of the bazaars and the road."
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Kim No. 78 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel."