Saturday, April 2, 2011

"In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Summary: A collection of short stories that take place primarily in Pakistan and are loosely connected through the wealthy Pakistani landowner K.K. Harouni.

Musings: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders has been favorably compared to the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian-American short story writer.  Although I could see some similarities in their exploration of relationships and the types of conflicts they present (though issues of "old world" vs. "new" are more subtly interwoven here than in Lahiri's work, where they often take center stage), Mueenuddin's work actually reminded me more of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami.  It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, since Murakami writes about the fantastical, but something in the writers' atypical narrative arcs (particularly in Mueenuddin's early stories) rang similar to me.  Perhaps it's because neither is afraid of writing a story without a climax or a clear resolution--instead both trust the reader to think without a neat ending.

Although each of Mueenuddin's stories has a different narrator, a similar theme runs throughout all eight presented in In Other Rooms: the crushing nature of hope.  Time and again, characters dare dream above their current situation, whether it's a young woman looking for love, an American girl desiring to be accepted by a Pakistani family, or a poor servant hoping to serve a wealthy family.  Each of these characters allows for the possibility of reaching his or her goal, and most even taste some part of success--which makes the inevitable downfall all the more heart-breaking.  It's a depressing motif, though it doesn't make the stories difficult to read.

In Other Rooms is a short book, at a little over 200 pages, but its wealth comes from its intricately drawn characters who are developed in the reader's mind through quiet detail.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge and the Back to the Classics Challenge (a Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up category).

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