Humane truths in dazzling debut
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders By Daniyal Mueenuddin Bloomsbury, 249pp, $ 35
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