Set in the Pakistani district of Punjab, the eight linked stories in this excellent book follow the lives of the rich and powerful Harouni family and its employees: managers, drivers, gardeners, cooks, servants … Manipulation unifies these stories, running through them as consistently as the Indus River flows south of Punjab. A dance of insincere compliments and favors asked at just the right moment — when the supplicant detects a benevolent mood — is performed by everyone. This bewildering pas de deux is familiar to all but the two American characters, whose ignorance causes grief to themselves and others … In this labyrinth of power games and exploits, Mueenuddin inserts luminous glimmers of longing, loss and, most movingly, unfettered love. But these emotions are often engulfed by the incessant chaos of this complicated country.
Daniyal Mueenuddin, a half-American, half-Pakistani writer, has crafted a chronicle of poverty as detailed and revealing as any by Steinbeck, with the same drive to humanize his subjects. Mueenuddin’s collection of linked stories does for the servants of Pakistan what Steinbeck’s fiction did for the laborers of America, capturing the complicated lives of individuals whose suffering stems from their class situation … Mueenuddin also turns his magnifying glass on the privileged class, especially the younger generation and the restlessness that afflicts it...Even Lily and her milieu, Mueenuddin suggests, are affected by social dislocation; she is one of many wealthy people attempting to find their places in a postcolonial system that destroyed traditional structures in Pakistan and then collapsed on itself.
Many of Mueenuddin's stories conform to a common dynamic: We learn about a character's past, then zero in on the central crisis of his or her life and, even while we expect more development, suddenly find everything wound up in a paragraph or two: ‘The next day two men loaded the trunks onto a horse-drawn cart and carried them away to the Old City.’ (Flaubert or Chekhov might have written that.) In other instances, even so minimal a resolution remains cloudy: Mueenuddin just stops, having given us all that we need to know about the future or lack of future in a love affair or a marriage … As should be clear, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a collection full of pleasures.
The fictional patriarch comes across as distant and stern, a man bloated by his own sense of entitlement and power. It is apparent that the author is mining his own complicated childhood for material, and there is much to uncover here … It often feels as if Mueenuddin's tendency to empathize with the desperately poor and powerless, illiterate servants he writes about is drowned out by his own attraction to power and dominance and to archaic notions of clan and caste. He shows us suffering but does not seem to suffer, and this creates a disturbing tension … A resignation to life's blatant unfairness permeates Mueenuddin's prose. There are no cries of exasperation or outbursts of anger, but always the steady hand of an exquisitely original writer.
If there was one thing the new Pakistani fiction seemed to lack, it was a Midnight’s Children – a single text to which the word masterpiece could unquestionably be attached. Now that moment may have come in the shape of Daniyal Mueenuddin and his outstanding collection of short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. It is one of the most startlingly authentic works of fiction to come out of south Asia this decade, rooted in a rural landscape like the stories of RK Narayan, but far bleaker and blacker than anything in Narayan’s Malgudi tales. The trajectory of each story ends, almost inevitably, in a shell-burst of loss and tragedy … Mueenuddin’s Pakistan is visually beautiful – there are wonderful sketches of the rhythms of the landscape with its banyan trees and mango orchards. But it is brutal and savage too. Individuals can be generous and dutiful, but fate is rarely kind.
The eight short stories of Daniyal Mueenuddin's enchanting debut are dreamlike, illuminating contemporary Pakistan's societal contradictions in prose as clear and serene as the contradictions themselves are subtle and tumultuous. Pakistan emerges as a place and a people ensnared by tensions of class and ancestry, wealth and poverty, virtue and vice, urban cosmopolitanism and rural provincialism. It writhes between its vanishing parochial past and its emerging multicultural future, neither a refuge in the menagerie of the present … As if to reflect this cultural blurring of boundaries, the stories are intertwined, with recurring characters and intersecting plots that suggest a literary blurring of boundaries. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is neither a story collection nor a novel. It is a literary weave, much like its author and his swirling landscapes are cultural weaves.
Mueenuddin's Pakistan is populated by seekers and dreamers young and old, the content and the terribly restless, men and women with talent and no vision, visionaries with hopes and no talents. In other words he has given us a country like our own, but different enough in landscape, religion, hopes, dreams, flaws and fears, so that we can easily contrast – if we dare – our own troubles and triumphs against theirs … If there's a young American writer who's doing for the U.S. what Mueenuddin has accomplished for Pakistan, and for the story in English, from the sentence level to the mastery of complex psychological states, I haven't read him yet.
In his collection of stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Pakistani American author Daniyal Mueenuddin transports us into the world of the feudal landowning class in late 20th-century Pakistan, and, more intimately, into the lives of the cadre of servants that sustain and are sustained by these sprawling households. Mueenuddin gently exposes us to this richly textured culture while drawing us in with stories about universal human longings for love, status and security … K.K. Harouni may be the common link, but at the end of the book he remains the least in focus. He is simply what holds it together, the hole at the center around which the spokes – the servants, the stories and the collection itself – revolve.
If Daniyal Mueenuddin is better at telling the stories of the desperate, the poor, and the failing, it is in part because there is a richness and vitality to Pakistan's disorder that the author manages to harness without fetishizing. And for a book with obvious social concerns, these are the tales that need to be told. He manages to do that here with excellent detail (in one of many marvelous descriptions, a man is called ‘gentle in a bovine sort of way’), humor, fine characterization, and a brutal honesty that eschews cheap comforts. His stories of the decadent, collapsing old aristocracy are also excellent, but that may be because, in some way, they belong to that aforementioned group, those who are failing, even if they are not aware of their own corruption and even if their servants would do almost anything to be in their place.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a debut collection by a Pakistani-American writer named Daniyal Mueenuddin, examines Pakistani society from the bottom to the top, and though the eight long stories are equally beautiful, the ones about the poverty-stricken are the most startling, because the lives they open a window onto are so far outside our ken … He has the gift of being both unflinching and gentle. He doesn’t shove the harshness at you. He doesn’t need to — it’s woven into the texture of these delicate, sad, profoundly pleasurable tales.
The world of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is as much the feudal hinterland of Pakistan as the cosmopolitan cityscape of Karachi and Lahore. The eight stories revolve, in one way or the other, around K.K. Harouni, landowner of a vast estate in the southern Punjab province … Mueenuddin's atmospheric prose aptly captures South Asian nuances, not just in dialect and cultural habits, but also in modes of thinking and relating. That is reason to pick up this collection from a writer destined to win greater laurels.
The pangs of individuals and cultures subject to established inequality and radical change are expertly analyzed in Pakistani author Mueenuddin’s impressive debut collection. The eight stories explore relationships among scions of the super-rich Harouni farming family, living near Lahore—those who serve it and those who marry (often unhappily) into it. The stories are Chekhovian in their grasp of indigenous detail and subtle understanding of their characters’ complex experiences and destinies.
In eight beautifully crafted, interconnected stories, Mueenuddin explores the cutthroat feudal society in which a rich Lahore landowner is entrenched. A complicated network of patronage undergirds the micro-society of servants, families and opportunists surrounding wealthy patron K.K. Harouni … An elegant stylist with a light touch, Mueenuddin invites the reader to a richly human, wondrous experience.