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Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
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Stories

A-In Other RoomsA debut collection from a frequent New Yorker contributor, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders may become one of the first popular books in America by a Pakistani author—and sets a remarkable precedent for the country’s literary culture.

The Story: Landowner K. K. Harouni is the central figure of this linked eight-story collection focusing on the intricate network of family and employees at the patriarch’s two properties. From a servant that becomes Harouni’s mistress and a manager selling off his land to a nephew entrenched in a love triangle with two American women, Mueenuddin finds a surplus of drama in the household in Lahore and on the family farm in Punjab. Focusing on the rich and the powerful, the underclass of cooks and servants, and themes of morality and class conflict, he paints a detailed picture of a swath of feudal Pakistani culture that is rapidly fading into history.
Norton. 248 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0393068005

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is neither a story collection nor a novel. It is a literary weave, much like its author and his swirling landscapes are cultural weaves." Robert Braile

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Dalia Sofer

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"He is a master storyteller, his work simultaneously intricate and stark; he simply transports you to another world, another way of being and thinking. There always seems to be two voices competing for dominance: the Western-educated modern man crossing paths with the obedient son, who still feels a strong tribal pulse beating in his head." Elaine Margolin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"These connected stories show us what life is like for both the rich and the desperately poor in Mueenuddin’s country, and the result is a kind of miniaturized Pakistani ‘human comedy.’ … On every page there are wonderful, surprising observations and details." Michael Dirda

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"We are so used to thinking of Pakistan as a country riven by strife that we can barely imagine normal life—the passing of generations, family rebellions and strategies for coping with everyday crises. These linked stories take us into a Pakistan we hardly ever see in print—the old aristocracy, the landowners and gentlemen-farmers, the farm managers and servants and peasants, the black sheep of the extended family, the passing of the old world, bit by bit." Susan Salter Reynolds

Critical Summary

Mueenuddin brings to bear on his stories his personal experience: the son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, he was educated in the United States and lives in Pakistan. Drawing comparisons to Flaubert, Chekov, and Balzac is a smart way to kick off a writing career. When not searching for analogs from the annals of literature, critics found plenty of superlatives to praise Mueenuddin’s work, which effectively depicts a place and people plagued by class and ancestral tension and caught between the past and an uncertain future. While plenty of ugliness exists in the motives and petty schemes of his characters, Mueenuddin remains evenhanded, elegantly setting the stage for the tensions between power and poverty and all attendant human frailties to play out.