In Other Rooms, Other Wonders--Daniyal Mueenuddin

In Other Room, Other Wonders made several lists of notable books.  It is a sequence of eight closely interrelated short stories that centers around the servants and the family of K. K. Harouni and traces out the lives, hopes, fears, and in some cases the deaths of some of the main characters.

What I loved about the book is the sense that it gave me of every level of Pakistani society.  I have gllimpses of the very wealthy, of the middle class, and long excursions with the lower class, the servants, the peasants, and the downtrodden. In the course of this novel in stories, we come to learn about the societal structure of modern Pakistan.  Perhaps what came as the greatest relief is that it wasn't another collection of expatriate stories that tell, from a slightly different point of view, the same woes and trials of any dweller of New York City.  That isn't to say that wealthy expatriates of other countries don't have stories that closely approximate those of urban Americans, but if so, I'm not really interested anyway.  Because, in point of fact, I'm not really interested in the what-I-did-before/during/after-my-divorce/affair/courtship stories that make up the malaise of modern Urban literature.  Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others all fall into this trap from time to time.  In showing us that the modern, with-it African or Asian is no different from the modern dweller of New York City, I am not being shown anything of interest to me. The nature of their distress takes on an appalling sameness.  And so, in contrast, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, stands out from the crowd.  In showing me just how the modern Pakistani is different, I am better able to see the interesting commanlities we share.  I do not live in Islamabad, Lahore, or the other locations mentioned in these stories, but as a result, I am better able to reflect upon where I do live and how it resembles and differs what I'm being shown of the lives of the Pakistani's. 

The prose is at times wonderful--deeply engaging, and deeply respectful both of the characters and of the place.  There is an obvious love of the countryside, mixed with a concrete realization that the suburbs of major Pakistani cities are not paradise.  Interestingly, if there is a "paradise" in these stories, it is Paris.  The story set in Paris was so rich in its incidentals, so profound in its telling, that I once again desired to visit Paris and see what it is that seems such a universal magnet.

The prose, the characters, the revelation of so much of life in Pakistan made this one of the must-read books of the year.  It certainly didn't start out that way, but with continued reading, I grew to love the characters and the overall arc of the story.

****1/2--recommended

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