Hu­mane truths in daz­zling de­but

In Other Rooms, Other Won­ders By Daniyal Mueenud­din Blooms­bury, 249pp, $ 35

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Liam Dav­i­son

IN de­fence of the short story, John Updike once claimed that each of his sto­ries held all his life’s in­ci­dents, predica­ments, crises and joys. It is tes­ta­ment to the po­ten­tial of the form for si­mul­ta­ne­ous com­pres­sion and ex­pan­sion, as well as to what it can achieve in the hands of a mas­ter.

Read­ing this de­but col­lec­tion of con­nected sto­ries by Pak­istani-born and US-ed­u­cated Daniyal Mueenud­din, one can’t help but be im­pressed by how richly and com­pre­hen­sively th­ese eight sto­ries re­alise an en­tire world that is at once alien and strangely fa­mil­iar.

The fa­mil­iar­ity is a legacy of Updike, James Joyce, An­ton Chekhov and the Amer­i­can Chekhov, Ray­mond Carver. There is a res- trained ob­jec­tiv­ity about the writ­ing and a re­sis­tance to the stereo­typ­i­cal con­trivances of plot that priv­i­leges jux­ta­po­si­tion and the dis­til­la­tion of telling mo­ments.

A poverty-stricken mother at­tempts to steal her sleep­ing daugh­ter’s money. A dec­o­rated box, once home to an itin­er­ant old man, is in­stalled as a memo­rial in the gar­den of a big es­tate. A fam­ily dis­agree­ment is re­solved through the burn­ing of a girl. Th­ese are beau­ti­ful, of­ten tragic, sto­ries that pose ques­tions rather than pass judg­ment.

The strange­ness de­rives from the in­con­gruities of an agrar­ian so­ci­ety built on feu­dal ties and land own­er­ship that is un­der­go­ing the shock of a late 20th-cen­tury tran­si­tion to a mod­ern in­dus­tri­alised state. Pak­istan since its in­cep­tion has been dom­i­nated by land­lords whose eco­nomic and spir­i­tual in­flu­ence across vast tracts of land has in­vari­ably trans­lated into con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal clout. Even now, feu­dal po­ten­tates and their scions are scat­tered across the par­ty­po­lit­i­cal land­scape and crammed into fed­eral and pro­vin­cial min­istries.

Yet an in­creas­ingly glob­alised


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