In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin

W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover/224 pages
ISBN: 0-393068005
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". . . compassionate stories about human needs . . ."

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s first collection of short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, are snapshots of humanity. He delves into the intimate and tragic moments of Pakistani aristocrats and their corrupt households. The suspense in each story is like a breathless climb up a steep mountain, and at the peak, a startling leap to the end.

The backdrop for the eight stories is a farm in the Punjabi Valley on the banks of the Indus River and a luxury mansion in the city of Lahore, both estates ruled by the feudal landowner, K. K. Harouni, sometime around 1970.

Harouni, who envies the new Pakistani industrialists’ wealth, sells large tracts of his land and becomes an investor. In the chaotic environment of failing business dealings, opportunities open up for his longtime trusted employees to fleece the master they love and revere.

One of Mueenuddin’s short stories, the Nawabdin Electrician, has been selected for the 2008 edition of Best American Short Stories by guest editor Salman Rushdie. The main character Nawab, who works on Harouni’s farm, is a small-time thief who finds ingenious ways to supplement his income. He cheats the electric company by “slowing down the revolutions of electric meters.” He has a cause: A loving wife, twelve daughters and a son he must support. This character’s devotion toward his family is so genuine that when a man puts a gun to his back, I panicked and hoped the character would survive to continue his pillaging.

Each of these stories draws the reader deep into the characters’ innermost desires and determination. In Saleema, a young Muslim refugee whose family crossed the new Pakistan border after the India Partition uses her sensuality to entice Harouni’s faithful servant Rafik. She earns Rafik’s affection and enjoys luxuries in the Lahore mansion, until tragedy strikes.

The most poetic story is Our Lady of Paris in which Harouni’s relative, young Sohail, a Yale student, and his American girlfriend vacation in Paris. Uninvited, Sohail’s parents join the couple. Metaphorically it is a tug of war between what is believed to be America’s unfettered freedoms and a Pakistani who has family obligations.

Lily is a tragic love story about a woman named Lily who enjoys a life of parties and drugs and marries Murad, a rich landowner who builds greenhouses. But while living on the farm she craves “the superficialities of life.”

Mueenuddin’s images drift from the magic scenes of a sandstorm to the smallest details of rich furnishings in the Lahore mansion. This is a compilation of compassionate stories about human needs and desires common to all cultures infused with Pakistani flavor.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla