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.]