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.
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.