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In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Power and Desire: Change and the limits of change
In a stunning collection of eight interconnected short stories, Daniyal Mueenuddin's IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS, give readers an intimate portrait of life near Lahore, Pakistan, a society on the verge of change composed of individuals who change through choices made or have change thrust upon them by outside events. Each story focuses on one character or relationship, building a richness and depth to the whole collection. Characters sometimes reappear in other stories, giving this book an epic feel through layered portraits. In IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS, the microcosm of the characters and the community surrounding the Gurmani family farm, from the family of an aging feudal landlord household to the various individuals who interact with those on the estate gives a haunting picture of a larger landscape and culture.

In "Nawabdin Electrician," Daniyal Mueenuddin focuses on a man known for his ingenuity, a man who in his own way takes a personal stand in one instance, and in doing so, defines himself anew. In "Saleema," Daniyal Mueenuddin grips the reader's heart with both a sense of transformation and tragedy in a rags-to-riches tale that transforms the characters themselves in a moving love story set against the structures and changes within a smaller family society. In "Provide, Provide," Jaglani rises in power and influence as he sells off K.K. Harouni's feudal estate in blocs. Daniyal Mueenuddin gives readers a heart-wrenching look into the consequences Jaglani's life has on those around him and the interconnectedness of human relationships. In a haunting first person narrative, "About a Burning Girl" tells the case brought to a sessions judge in the Lahore High Court when the judge, with encouragement from his wife and his servant Khadim's brother, tries to free Khadim from charges brought against him for murdering his brother's wife. The story after which the book is named, "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders," gives the reader a more intimate portratit of K.K. Harouni himself through a look at the Husna, a woman who applies for a job on the estate with a letter of introduction from his first wife. "Our Lady of Paris" looks into the relationship of American Helen and her Pakistani fiance/husband, Solail Harouni, detailing their plans to forge a new special bright future and the role family and culture plays in an individual. The longest tale, "Lily," focuses on the relationship and marriage of Lily and Murad, set in Islamabad and Jalpana and the transformation of Lily from a bride to being subsumed, from taking a chance on change to the lack of change from one generation to the next. In "A Spoiled Man," one of the most moving tales in the entire collection, an act of compassion brings Resak more than he ever could have imagined until suddenly one change, one act of concern, has unintended consequences.

Daniyal Mueenuddin's stories offer an unsettling, sometimes humorous but mostly tragic look into a landscape divided by class, a landscape in the midst of change but where the constraints of station, family structures and gender often leave individuals open to the whims of more personal smaller scaled changes. Daniyal Mueenuddin has a gift for drawing the reader into the lives of his characters, their dreams and hopes, their relationships and their difficulties and humanity. Daniyal Mueenuddin's stories highlight the art of the short story narrative form. One moment, one life evokes a whole world. Whether his tales feature men or women, Daniyal Mueenuddin peers into the thoughts of his characters with a remarkable depth but in his female characters, Daniyal Mueenuddin presents a particularly haunting vision of the limits to which the possibility of change is not only governed by class but also gender. Themes of power and desire and hope for change unite the different stories. The author's subtle yet powerful use of imagery crystallizes the dramatic moment within each tale with fine precision. Once I read the first story, I was unable to put the book down until the very last page. Absolutely exquisite!

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. (February 2009)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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