In Other Rooms Other Wonders Paperback – Jan 26 2010
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Remarkable. . . . a poignant picture of Punjabi life. — The Economist
Mueenuddin’s talent lets us perceive not just [Pakistan’s] machinations but also its beauty. . . . In this labyrinth of power games and exploits, Mueenuddin inserts luminous glimmers of longing, loss and, most movingly, unfettered love. — New York Times Book Review
Mueenuddin convincingly captures the mindset or speech of any class. . . . A collection full of pleasures. — Washington Post
[Mueenuddin’s] crisp, vivid voice glides effortlessly into his various characters’ heads. . . . Dark stuff, but full of beauty. — Entertainment Weekly
Starred Review. An elegant stylist with a light touch, Mueenuddin invites the reader to a richly human, wondrous experience. — Publishers Weekly
Daniyal Mueenuddin takes us into a sumptuously created world, peopled with characters who are both irresistible and compellingly human. His stories unfold with the authenticity and resolute momentum of timeless classics. — Manil Suri
A stunning achievement. This superb collection ranges across a vast swath of contemporary Pakistan—from megacities to isolated villages, from feudal landlords to servant girls—and such is its narrative power that I couldn’t stop turning the page. Daniyal Mueenuddin is a writer of enormous ambition, and he has the prodigious talent to match. — Mohsin Hamid
A blazingly good writer. He brings to vivid and compelling life a country and its people. — David Davidar, author of The Solitude of Emperors
Daniyal Mueenuddin’s Pakistanis are like Chekhov’s Russians, so fully realized that we never wonder over what motivates them. They are living, breathing presences—sometimes brought so close that, I daresay, you hear the sounds of their breathing and the roll of gravel under their feet. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders brings us a new way of seeing the world, and it is one that we could not have anticipated. — Elizabeth Evans, author of Carter Clay
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.)
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.]