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In Other Rooms Other Wonders [Paperback]

Daniyal Mueenuddin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 26 2010

Passing from the mannered drawing rooms of Pakistan's cities to the harsh mud villages beyond, Daniyal Mueenuddin's linked stories describe the interwoven lives of an aging feudal landowner, his servants and managers, and his extended family, industrialists who have lost touch with the land. In the spirit of Joyce's Dubliners and Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, these stories comprehensively illuminate a world, describing members of parliament and farm workers, Islamabad society girls and desperate servant women. A hard-driven politician at the height of his powers falls critically ill and seeks to perpetuate his legacy; a girl from a declining Lahori family becomes a wealthy relative's mistress, thinking there will be no cost; an electrician confronts a violent assailant in order to protect his most valuable possession; a maidservant who advances herself through sexual favors unexpectedly falls in love.

Together the stories in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders make up a vivid portrait of feudal Pakistan, describing the advantages and constraints of social station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Refined, sensuous, by turn humorous, elegiac, and tragic, Mueenuddin evokes the complexities of the Pakistani feudal order as it is undermined and transformed.


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Review

Another virtuoso book I want to recommend is In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a collection of stories by the Pakistani-American writer Daniyal Mueenuddin. I can't praise Mueenuddin's work too much: He has the gifts of insight into human behavior of Alice Munro, the gift for detail we find in Updike and William Trevor, and the ability to make sentences and paragraphs that pack the punch of something out of James Salter and Richard Ford. --Alan Cheuse"

About the Author

Daniyal Mueenuddin was brought up in Lahore, Pakistan and Elroy, Wisconsin. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Law School, his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, The Best American Short Stories 2008, selected by Salman Rushdie, and the forthcoming PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories 2010. For a number of years he practiced law in New York. He now lives on a farm in Pakistan's southern Punjab.


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is a collection of eight linked short stories which describe the overlapping worlds of an extended Pakistani family of landowners. These are stories of the servants and dependants in the worlds of Mr K.K Harouni's overflowing household in Lahore and the peasants on his estates, as well as the parallel worlds of his industrialist relations who have distanced themselves from their feudal past.

The characters in these stories confront the advantages and constraints of their situations, the dissolution of old ways and the associated shock of change. Meet Lily, the socialite who, tired of endless parties, marries a young landlord in an attempt to reinvent herself. There is Nawabdin, the electrician whose light-fingered ingenuity enables him to support his 12 daughters until he loses almost everything. Meet, too, the aged labourer who earns enough money to marry but when his wife disappears shortly afterwards is suspected of murder.

There are no happy stories here: the rich are selfish and shallow, the poor trying hard to survive. And yet the tragedy is leavened, at times, with humour. These stories with their diverse characters, their attempts at love, occasional triumphs, and misunderstandings illustrate the complexities of a class and culture which is in transition.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful collection Aug. 29 2009
By U.Jay
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful collection of short stories about Pakistan and in particular, the feudal society mentality of Pakistanis there that is still very much present today too. It is unique to have a Pakistani writer who is able to write about a world that is so narrow in some ways, but still manages to communicate its "essence" to others who live outside of it. Some of the endings of the stories feel a bit choppy and unresolved, but that may be a personal preference. In any case, I highly recommend this book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Nov. 5 2009
By GFX
Format:Hardcover
A must read. Simply stunning. Powerful and moving though deeply melancholy. I eagerly anticipate his next book.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  139 reviews
90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, mesmerizing book Nov. 30 2008
By Stephanie Cowell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
It is impossible to say enough about these subtle, deep, painful stories which remind me of Chekhov. In all the tales, revolving somehow around a very rich Pakistani landowner and his family, the poet Burn's line "man's inhumanity to man" kept echoing in my mind. I was enthralled by the unique vision and skill of the writer and at the same time truly depressed by the stories. The rich see nothing outside themselves but for brief moments; they have little joy and the poor are less than chattel to them. The poor or those fallen from prosperity cluster about them, hanging on to their feet for dear life, and inevitably falling away. If love begins to blossom in these stories, it will fail by one partner's flawed nature or parents' manipulative intervention. If any character has a sweet or generous nature, he or she is totally extinguished. Women fare the worse, being kept as mistresses until the man dies and then losing everything.

What a picture it paints of a feudal society though throughout the classes! Nawabdin the electrician can fix any machine with mango sap and makeshift wiring until it soon breaks again; he married, early in his life, "a sweet woman of unsurpassed fertility" who gave him twelve daughters for whom he must find dowries by turning his hand to dozens of little businesses until a thief in even more desperate condition tries to kill him for his motorcycle. Lily, a woman in her 30s who is weary of a life of loose sex and wild parties, vows to change into a model farmer's wife when she marries the decent son of a rich landowner. She discovers once married that "I'm not the type to be dutiful. I'm messy and willful and self-destructive." (The paragraph which ends this story is so brilliant I read it three times.) And the last story with the character I loved the best, "a small, bowlegged man with a lopsided face," a dirt-poor peasant so devoted to the garden which a rich woman hires him to tend that he lovingly buys grape vines with his own money. For these characters and many more, the author sings a sonorous lament with his prose.

A very sad book, but wonderfully written, just wonderfully.
50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Substantial potential, mostly good storytelling, sometimes less than satisfying Jan. 8 2009
By J. Loscheider - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Mueenuddin weaves a series of short stories around a wealthy Pakistani land-owning family of the old order, and the retainers, servants and heirs whose lives are centered around them. The stories take place during and following the sweeping social changes of the 20th century.

At his best, Mueenuddin narrates artfully on grand themes of fidelity and obsession while commenting on rampant corruption and substantial inequality in the patronage-based Pakistani class system. At times the prose borders on beautiful, telling enough details to picture, but not so many to slow the progression.

Several of his characters are profoundly likeable. The banter of the eponymous "Lily" made me think of a naughtier Audrey Hepburn sparring with herself as Princess Anne, and the choices of a young Sohail made me reflect upon the gravity of choices made while we are young. Such emotional proximity makes the tragedies painful, with victories scarce to come by and often at heavy price.

The stories are often so melancholy as to be cathartic. Lamentably, Mueenuddin sometimes loses the cathartic balance and tilts towards nihilism. His wealthy characters are often bored, their impoverished servants often desperate. Perhaps this is a resolute message, that the class system fails both so unutterably, choking the freedom of the individual for the sake of perpetuating itself, and yet rich and poor alike cling to fatalistic destiny without knowing of another way to live.

At times even the purpose of the stories seem to get lost, and I found myself asking "Daniyal, are you trying to tell me something important, or is this merely a nostalgiac vignette?" The connective tissue is not always clear between the many rooms of Mueenuddin's house of wonders, other than some association with the central family.

There were some endings that left me less than satisfied. After building his stories, his interdependent characters, to a profound and crushing climax, too often his denoument simply collapses into a two-sentence finale. Perhaps he wishes to show the tragedy intrinsic to servants' losing all importance once they leave the master's house, but it feels unfair to let my empathy with these poor tragic persons simply fade like tears in the rain.

Likewise, conversations sometimes resolve themselves. In "The Lady of Paris", a life choice is made in the briefest unspoken part of a conversation, between the questions of a future and the small talk that follows a resolution obvious only to the two conversants. The choice remains a secret until several stories later.

It is clear from this work that Mueenuddin has writing in his bones.
I gave three stars for an enjoyable, though sometimes frustrating, read, and hope to give four to his next set of short stories.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem - even if you're not a big fan of short stories, you'll love this Dec 8 2008
By sb-lynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This terrific book is made up of short stories that are linked, and you see some of the same characters at different points in time and place. It's not that easy to do, but Mueensuddin pulls it off perfectly, and you get to know each character in almost a Rashamon way - through their own eyes and through those of others. If you think that you really dislike or favor someone, just wait. You may think differently later on.

These stories have locations in common too, and the majority of the book takes place near Lahore, on the farmlands of a wealthy Pakistani family. We are shown what life is like for the poor, and for the rich. We become acquainted with landowners, and the workers and servants, and how bad luck or one bad decision can result in catastrophe. Success and happiness in life often depends on the circumstances of one's birth, and the reader gets a lesson about Pakistani culture, and its harshness, its dependence on knowing the right people, and its fatalism. And throw luck into the mix. And because the stories take place at different times, we see how modernization has affected Pakistan - and how some things remain the same.

If you were a fan of A Fine Balance (one of my favorite books), or The God of Small Things, I can *guarantee* that you will love this book. Like those great novels, this one can be both heartbreaking and funny, and many times you will be smiling at some amusing passage only to be devastated by the next.

One other thing to add - I am not, in general, a big fan of short stories. If you feel this way too, do not be put off by the fact this is a book of stories. Both because the book is so well-written, and because the stories share commonality of characters and place, it reads like a novel.

So, highly, highly recommended. This is going down as one of my top reads of the year. It's that good. (And you'll be hooked from page one - another big plus.)
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Literature with a Strong Cultural Anthropological Twist Dec 1 2008
By B. Case - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Daniyal Mueenuddin's debut collection of interconnected short stories, "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" is a rare and entrancing treat: at once both exceptional literature and extraordinary literary cultural anthropology. This work stands as one of the finest works of new literature I've read all year. If you love global literature, don't miss this unique and exquisite reading experience!

Open this book, and you are at once immersed in the fascinating reality of an alien and intriguing culture -- the culture of Punjabi Pakistan. All the characters in these stories are connected to the same elite and powerful farming estate. You get to know the owners, their immediate family, relative, and lovers, servants, workers, managers, friends, colleagues, and local community and government officials. The stories take place within a fifty-year period, from the early 1960s to the present day. This time span gives you the opportunity to observe the culture in transition, as old ways are adapted to meet the emerging challenges of a modern global world.

This is a vibrant and rich culture very different from our own. The author does not compel you to judge this world, but rather to understand and appreciate it. This is an Islamic culture, but nowhere in the book is religion discussed and highlighted. This is a culture where corruption is endemic, infecting all aspects of society from the most intimate family connections to every kind of routine business and government transaction. This is a culture with deep feudal roots. Yet this culture works and is vibrant and alive on so many levels. One of the characters in the book, the rich highly educated American wife of the modern day landowner, discusses her life in Pakistan with a friend at a party saying, "It's strange, it's like a drug. I think that I miss the States so much -- and I do -- and then after a month there I'm completely bored. Pakistan makes everything else seem washed out."

The stories in this collection are simply magical, the characters so alive I can't get them out of my head. I feel an intimacy with this estate and these people. I feel as if I had lived among them. And what of Mueenuddin's prose? It's astonishing -- fresh, minimalist, rich, witty, often incredibly wise; he's a remarkable new voice in American literature. And, yes, Mueenuddin is an American and it is fitting that the first story in this collection, "Nawabdin Electrician," was chosen by Salman Rushdie (serving as Guest Editor) for inclusion in the 2008 edition of the famous literary series "The Best American Short Stories."

[If you read this work and find yourself loving this type of literary cultural anthropology, I also recommend that you try Mischa Berlinski's debut novel, "Fieldwork." It was a National Book Award fiction finalist in 2007. You will find my review for this book on Amazon.]
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the Best March 14 2009
By Daniel Marcus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is simply the finest book I've read in the last two years and I'm an avaricious reader. I'm a sucker for books about the sub-continent but this lovely miracle of a book surpasses everything. It is also the first book of short stories (pax Chekhov, Cheever and Updike) that I have been unable to put down. The man, without preciousness or self-conscious artiness draws a picture with 6 words that immediately places me in the emotional center of the story. His descriptions of characters in the process of hurting themselves makes me feel a kind of love for them. I slowed down my reading of his stories and found myself only willing to move to the next one when I knew I could find quiet. In fact, I MADE quiet for his stories. I cannot praise this writing enough.
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