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After a long while, I came around to read a short story collection. Though I have a few short story collections added to my TBR (Arresting God in Kathmandu, The Upside-Down King by Sudha Murty, Small Towns, Big Stories by Ruskin Bond being on the list for long), I haven’t got around to pick them up.
Thus, when Subin Mathew George’s Sacred Trove came my way for review, I was excited to read short stories after a long time. Read on to know more about the book and about my experience of reading it.
At the cost of sounding too harsh, I have to say this – the cover isn’t attractive. It is dull, drab, and boring. Though each of the eleven illustrations mentioned on the cover does a good job of reflecting individual stories, the overall design could have been more attractive.
Let’s talk about the stories
There are eleven short stories in the collection.
In the paragraphs below, I talk a little about each story and my thoughts about them.
The titular story Sacred Trove has an intriguing premise. The story involves multiple characters and many plotlines, all of which combine to provide the reader with a heady concoction of mystery, thrill, and intrigue. The language and the story are such that it might take a while to get into, but once you put in the effort, it’s a smooth and engrossing ride.
The famous paleographer Raymond Kingsley (known for his many accomplishments in the field of archaeology) is invited to a high-risk mission in Russia. Russia, where the constant and dangerous tussle between the church and the state has begun to take shape of a civil war. Reluctant at first, he later agrees to take up the project, as a covert operation against the state.
As he sets out on his quest for finding the precious treasures of Christian heritage, which encased within the cathedral of St. Vasily, he has no idea of the precarious situation that he will soon find himself in.
Marvel like the Lord
This is the story of Father Elmer who wants to become a priest. He dreams that one day he would be able to heal the sick and the wounded, perform miracles, and ultimately marvel like the Lord. For this ultimate purpose, he patiently waits for the better part of his life, awaiting a chance to perform such miracles. Knowing in his heart, that one day his dreams would certainly come true. But happens when he gets that chance?
The story has an interesting premise but is written in an unnecessarily complicated manner, featuring too many irrelevant and unnecessary characters who only add to the complexity of the narration.
Mystic Shore is a sweet little tale about a grandfather and a grandchild, which has underlying themes of grief and loss. It talks of the tragic pain of losing a loved one and narrates to us the tale of an ‘everlasting’ and ‘beyond the realm’ kind of love. It is a simple, beautiful, and emotional story.
Caged Cat is a story about past traumas and the poison of unhealed wounds. It is a story that talks about the need for breaking away from tragic memories of the past. The story is short and symbolic, bold and daring at the same time.
Maya: Sea of Illusions
Maya: Sea of Illusions is a story where the reader tries to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not. As the author weaves a complex web of illusions, mixing real with imaginary, he constantly challenges the reader to sift through the mirage.
Atypical Twins narrates the story of two identical twins – Jacob and Isau – who are vastly different from each other. One is a simple man of simple means, a lumber trader who works tirelessly to earn his living. The other is a popular writer with a lavish lifestyle, who has amassed an immense fortune. The story reinforces the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”. When a woman named Stella comes into the twins’ life, their world is changed forever. It is then that the reader gets to see their real face.
Revenge is for Michael
Revenge is for Michael narrates the story of a police officer Abram, who has been made in charge of a special new branch for cases that have gone cold. As he tries to decipher and unravel the particularly mysterious case of the disappearance of Maxime Grace Joseph, he realizes just how complex and convoluted the case is. Again, like many other stories in the book, this one too has a brilliant concept and a strong plotline. But the execution of it is way too confusing and mechanical.
Like a Canary in a Coal Mine
This is the story of a coal miner Miguel and his misfortunes. When tragedy befalls him, it comes in multiples. Miguel loses his job at a time when he needs money, at a time when his family is counting on him to provide. But just when Miguel is struggling to take care of his responsibilities, help comes from the unlikeliest of places. This is a story of hope, goodwill, and kindness.
Red Mountains is one of the lengthier stories in the book, almost fifty pages long. A mix of high-octane adventure, war drama, and lots of action. The setting is in the war-torn area of Ramadi, somewhere in the middle-east, where chaos and strife have wreaked havoc in the lives of the local citizens. Between the Russians, the Americans, the Syrians, and the warring tribal overlords, it is the innocent Kurds and Yazidis (stuck between the unforgiving mountain range of Sinjar) who are at the receiving end of these agents of death and destruction.
This is a story that lays bare the deepest darkest depths of human nature. It is a story that shows how the power brokers of the world satiate their hunger through the blood of innocents.
A Million Euro Dream
A Million Euro Dream is about a family of hardworking farmers who is going through rough and uncertain times. This is as much the story of family love and bonding, as it is of greed and regret. It is a sweet little story that has many lessons.
Modified Mother narrates the story of a mother-daughter duo. Ruth, as a mother, is always concerned for the well-being of her daughter Sara, who has been suffering from a condition called Tetraplegia since her birth. They share a bond that is pure and unconditional. But somewhere while trying to find the cure for her daughter Sara’s condition, Ruth loses sight of her goal and becomes a different version of herself. The story mocks the unachievable and unrealistic beauty standards of today’s world. It also shows how people tend to lose sight of reality while chasing flimsy goals.
My take on the writing
While the theme, the plotlines, and the backdrop of the stories are very intriguing, I can’t help but feel that the writing is a little disconnected and choppy. As if missing out on many essential and connecting links within the stories. The narration is unnecessarily complicated, which doesn’t facilitate effortless reading. In many places, the reader is required to spend considerable time just to make sense of things.
Sacred Trove makes use of a rich language that only serves to enhance one’s vocabulary. However, as a reader, I always prefer a language that is easy and flowy. If it has to be flashy and rich, it shouldn’t affect the flow of the story.
Who can read?
While voracious and regular readers can pick the book up, I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners.
The central theme
Though not all stories adhere to it, many have biblical themes. Most of them have biblical motifs and contain references to Christian history, religion, tales, and heritage. This is a wonderful addition that lends the book a unique charm and vibe.
In the end
In the end, Sacred Trove is a collection of eleven unique stories that reflect human nature and behavior. It is a book that manages to capture the beauty of this imperfect human world.
Pick the book if
- You love reading short stories.
- You love reading stories with different and unique themes.
Skip the book if
- You don’t enjoy short stories.
- You don’t like complex and confusing writing.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Subin Mathew George’s Sacred Trove using the links below.