In Other Rooms, Other Wonders – Daniyal Mueenuddin [TSS]

Title: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Author: Daniyal Mueenuddin
ISBN: 0393068005
Pages: 224
Release Date: February 1, 2009
Challenge: Pub Challenge, Countdown Challenge, A to Z Challenge
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

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 turns humorous, elegaic and tragic, Mueenuddin evokes the complexities of the Pakistani feudal order as it is undermined and transformed.

I was first attracted to Daniyal Mueenuddin’s debut In Other Rooms, Other Wonders for two reasons: first, the beautiful title, and second, one of the stories in the collection had previously been selected for publication in the New Yorker by Salman Rushdie. Any author that attracts Rushdie’s attention is going to attract mine as well.

My personal favorite part about these stories is the fact that they are all intertwined. I have generally shied away from story collections, though I have been reading more lately, because I usually don’t feel like there is anything within them to bring them to a higher level. They are simply too short; the plot can’t be developed enough, the characters can’t be developed enough, etc. The technique of linking the stories actually brings this collection to that higher plane, makes the whole more than simply the sum of its parts.

The subject matter is also very interesting. The stories revolve around those connected to K.K. Harouni, a wealthy landowner in Pakistan. They are about his servants and workers for the most part, but also about his family. Mueenuddin is not afraid to expose double standards and lies within Pakistani society, but he also depicts it with a level of grace and elegance. There is a beautiful simplicity within these stories that is easy to appreciate, perhaps a result of Mueenuddin’s writing style. His prose is carefully crafted and easy to read.

One thing I did find disappointing about the stories is that sometimes they aren’t exactly brought to a resolution. While I do understand the desire to let the reader interpret what happened, I enjoy a sense of closure at the end of something. I like to know what happened, not to ponder over it. Sometimes, the end of one story is found buried within another. But sometimes, the reader is left hanging.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a remarkable debut which will impress readers and leave them wanting more. I can’t wait for him to release a novel; it is sure to be an amazing read.

If you want a taste of Mueenuddin before picking up this short story collection, the story he published in the New Yorker (also included in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) called “A Spoiled Man” is available online here.

Thank you to Camille for sending me this book to review!

Comments

  1. Thanks for giving us such a great review. ‘In Other Rooms, Other Wonders’ sounds exactly like my kind of book especially when you mention both Joyce and Turgenev in the same breath. How can one resist? :o)

    Thanks also for pointing us to a Mueenuddin short so we can check him out first.

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