George Harvey’s engaging novella Where Heaven and Earth Meet offers an interesting approach to relating stories about the Hindu god Vishnu. Told against a small-town backdrop in 1904, the story delivers a blend of Eastern and Western thought.
August Altmann owns the local hardware store in Gorse, Nebraska. The business serves as the gathering place for the community. August has never traveled outside the area, nor does he have a higher education, but he serves as the lay reader in the nearby Episcopal church. By contrast, his long-time friend Justus Fowler is a Yale educated attorney who has studied Eastern religions.
On the store porch, August takes center stage to tell Justus stories he’s known since childhood about Vishnu. Because Justus views Hindu teachings as merely polytheistic worship, August feels his friend may have missed their underlying messages.
Harvey’s character tells stories with imaginative details, including kidnappings, armies comprised of humans and animals, and warriors with matched skill sets in battles where right wins over wrong. Thematically, the narrative delivers contrasts between happiness and greed and extols the concept that we are all gods, but gods must experience humanity with all its triumphs and failures. A key lesson involves the difference between gods that are good and those that are evil.
Colorful illustrations provided by Wikimedia Commons introduce each chapter and complement the narrative. Their subjects range from natural Eastern landscapes to various incarnations of Vishnu and other Hindu characters.
While August shares his tales, various town members listen and join in. Much of the narrative is naturally dialogue, but this often feels created to deliver information rather than to portray authentic conversation. Additionally, Justus often questions August during his storytelling, which can impede the narrative flow.
But both Justus and readers drawn to Hindu history and spirituality ultimately realize that this rural enclave is a Nirvana of sorts where its inhabitants can experience love, faith, remorse, and celebration—a quiet, unique and appealing storytelling premise.
Also available in hardcover.