Review: The Good Master by Kate Seredy

The Good Master by Kate Seredy
My rating: 5 of 5 bookmarks

This is a delightful, heartwarming story that is aimed at the 8-12 age demographic, but even teenagers and adults can enjoy the great storytelling. The characters are vivid and lifelike; Jancsi, Kate and Márton, in particular, I found to be very relatable. Coming at this book from an adult's point of view, I found that the characters have layers to them that are more than meets the eye. But Seredy keeps the complexity of the personalities as a sort of undercurrent to the story so that while young children may not pick up on it and can still enjoy the story at face value, an adult can appreciate the characters on a deeper level.

While there are a few moments of drama, for the most part, it is a tale of everyday life in the rural plains of Hungary in the early 1900's, prior to World War I. The country life is presented in an almost idealized manner, but is tempered slightly by a few instances of challenges and minor hardship. There are moments of warm family times, life lessons that the children learn and scenes described that are outright humorous.

One particularly poignant scene that I loved was when the priest was commending Jancsi for his bravery during an incident. The exchange was as follows:
Jancsi: "...I was not brave. I was just about scared to death."
The Priest: "That's just why I call you brave. The best of us are 'scared to death' when we are in danger. But only the courageous stay and fight."

Kate Seredy does a great job of keeping the narrative flowing, with each chapter segmented almost like a snapshot of each individual event in the full story. It would seem that she also has a partiality for folktales and fables as there are several instances of older characters recounting such stories to Jancsi and Kate, which while it was a bit different I didn't find it a negative. Seredy also illustrated the edition I have (I believe all authorized volumes include her illustrations) and I found the art to be a wonderful addition to the story.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

The book, which is loosely based on Seredy's childhood, was published in 1935 and received a Newbery Honor medal the following year. I recommend this for the original target age of 8-12 and I also think that it can be enjoyed by all ages. There is nothing in terms of content that I found to be objectionable. Although I think it worth mentioning that there is a very stereotypical representation of a gypsy clan in the story that some might not appreciate. Also worth mentioning is that the legend of Santa Claus is thoroughly invalidated in the latter half of the book, so if you, as a parent, wish to preserve your child's belief in the jolly ol' fellow then you may wish to skip this book. Otherwise, it is a very fun and engaging tale that I think families will love.

Interesting Note: While born and raised in Hungary, Seredy didn't begin publishing her writing until she immigrated to the United States. All of her books were written in English and even though The Good Master and its sequel are very much about Hungarian culture, neither were ever translated into Hungarian, according to Wikipedia.

J.D. Sutter

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