Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Reviewed by Mark Lardas
October 8, 2023
“The Village Maestro and 100 Other Stories,” by Dr. Vaghese Mathai, Pippa Rann Books, 2022, 296 pages, $27.99 (Hardcover), $17.99 (Paperback), $10.49 (ebook)
When Vaghese Mathai first began teaching, his college asked student volunteers to open the class with a devotional, a brief statement to set the stage for the class. Because the students were reluctant to volunteer, Professor Mathai began giving it. His version was a short narrative. His openings were so fascinating students began taking his classes because of his opening statement.
“The Village Maestro and 100 Other Stories,” by Dr. Vaghese Mathai collects 101 of these microstories in a short volume. Advertised as short stories, they are not. Instead this is a collection of meditations on the human condition. They are short essays rather than short stories.
They are short. The longest take ups three pages, some just one page, most use two. All show you do not need a lot of words to say something meaningful. Each one carries an important lesson. Each one merits thought and reflection.
Dr. Mathai was born in India and went to college in the United States (getting his doctorate from Baylor). He draws freely from both of these heritages in this book. Essays cover a range of topics and span a broad period of time. Some cover events that occurred in ancient times. Others are reflections on 21st century events. The majority are in some degree religious. While he draws upon Jewish and Hindi traditions in some stories, he is rooted in Christianity. Some of his meditations visit the Desert Fathers. Others examine the life of Jesus.
Yet this is not a book of religious meditations. There are many secular chapters in the book. Cicero’s Tyro, Isaac Asimov, Peter the Great and others spend time under Mathai’s lens. So do many issues from economics to the modern trend of self-mutilation in search of self-image. Few areas escape his examination.
He is unafraid to ask the big questions: Why are we here? Is there a purpose to our lives? Does God exist? He is equally unafraid to offer his answers to those questions. Moreover his answers are interesting. This is a lively book to read.
“The Village Maestro” is one of those rare books that make you think. The book is a paradox. While apparently simple, it offers a complexity below its surface. Each individual chapter is worth reading and then re-reading. You may disagree with some of Mathai’s conclusions, but even there, you will be glad he provided an opportunity to reconsider the topic.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.