In this fresh examination of Kipling, Benfey hangs a provocative "what if” over Kipling’s American years and maps the imprint Kipling left on his adopted country as well as the imprint the country left on him
...Kipling’s American years make for a fertile foreign chapter. They yielded the bulk of his most popular work. Benfey eloquently argues not only that Kipling’s engagement with the United States made him the writer he became, but that he lavishly returned the favor ... It is not Benfey’s fault that Kipling flies about in reckless disregard of his subtitle, but it does at times make for something of a disjointed narrative. One gets the sense of a subject straining at his leash, unhappily confined, stubbornly untamed ... Benfey reminds us of our debt to a category-demolishing, globe-striding man who indeed contained multitudes...
Christopher Benfey, a professor at Mount Holyoke, writes that some of his friends, when they learned what he was working on, asked him what on earth he was thinking, and warned that he’d better be ready to defend himself. Benfey’s best defense turns out to be the book itself, which doesn’t attempt a full-throated rehab job ... Kipling’s American sojourn is hardly an 'untold story'—it figures in all the biographies—but Benfey tells it well, catching nuances that some biographers have missed.
Mr. Benfey, who clearly enjoyed the considerable research he put into this book, recounts the family’s time in New England rather well, including the unhappy end to the Kiplings’ American sojourn a few years later ... These years were joyous and then dire ones for Kipling, and Mr. Benfey recounts it all with a fine touch ... It has to be said, though, that both the subtitle and the title of Mr. Benfey’s book detract from his worthwhile effort. 'If' may be a nifty account of this period in the famous writer’s life, but this is hardly an 'untold story.'