In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

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In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A readable, luminous, economical and utterly absorbing picture of Pakistani society told in stories of lives of interconnected characters, from the rural poor to the jet-setting rich. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-0747597131

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A chambermaid starts an affair with an elderly valet and bears him a child. A corrupt factor puts enough on the side to become a landowner and a politician and then falls in love with his driver's relative whom he employed as a servant. A man is accused of murdering his brother's wife by pouring kerosene on her and setting her on fire: his brother comes to ask a cynical judge for help. An elderly rich landowner takes a young woman from a once grand family now fallen from grace as a companion and a lover. A young Pakistani heir to an industrial fortune, a graduate of an Ivy league university, takes his bride to be to Paris.

All the stories from In Other Rooms, Other Wonders are linked by a shared connection to the person of K.K. Harouni: an old-style Lahore feudal landowner, patron and grand old man. Some are connected rather vaguely – the characters might be his distant relatives or even their employees; in others K.K. Harouni appears himself.

From the partying young jet-setters of the richest families to the simplest of the peasants at the rural estates, the characters in Mueenuddin's stories are seen in the mundane intimacy of their day to day existence and at the crucial junctions when making decisions or subject to fates that change the entire course of their lives; and in the web of connections that links everybody to everybody in the complex interplay of class, wealth and gender.

I thought that the two stories of the rich Pakistani young (Lily and Our lady of Paris) were by themselves weaker, less stylish and marred by a curious note of moral sanctimony in the narrative voice; but they work well enough in the collection as a whole.

The stories, while being utterly rooted in the particular time and place, also have a timeless quality, where a gentle humour and an ear and eye for the ridiculous combines with a profound sensitivity to the drama, tragedy and sadness of human life. Then tragedy tends to dominate (most of the stories fall short of conventional happy endings), but it's not dwelled upon: things are as they are.

It's possible to see here a scathing social critique of an utterly corrupt system of patronage in its last and perhaps most degenerate stages, but there is no overt political message in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, just a resigned melancholy.

Told in a understated prose of spare elegance, they reminded me of the works from the grand old tradition of European short story, perhaps particularly the Russian writers (dare I mention Chekhov or Gogol?). It might be because so much of the social structure depicted in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is still clearly – and painfully - feudal, but also because of that melancholy undertone to Mueenuddin's narratives, where even those fortunate or able to adapt to the change of times are either disillusioned or (especially the poor) never had any illusions in the first place.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a wonderful book: a luminous, curiously economical and utterly absorbing picture of Pakistani society seen through the eyes and lives of clearly individuated characters. It also is a very readable, engrossing one: a genuine gift for narrative that keeps the reader turning pages.

It comes wholeheartedly recommended for pretty much everybody: the tales are compelling, the writing accomplished and the picture of the Pakistani society richly nuanced.

The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. If you're looking for short stories then Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff is worth considering. For more fiction from the Indian sub-continent we can recommend Animal's People by Indra Sinha and The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux.

Buy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin at Amazon.co.uk


Buy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin at Amazon.com.

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