Finished on Friday, blogging for Saturday 4/16, this is the first of 15 books I hope to read over the next 15 days, or 15/15/15 for short. Post a comment on what you read, and a link if you have it.
Hailed by many as one of the best books of last year (Publishers Weekly, TIME, New Statesman, The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, and The Economist), Daniyal Mueenuddin’s short story collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, had a long wait at the library. I was surprised when it didn’t make the short list for this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books. Having read it, I suspect it was excluded because it was tonally similar to one of the other contenders, Wells Towers’ Everything Ravaged Everything Burned, which I read and admired, though can’t say I enjoyed. I feel similarly about this book.
Mueenuddin has written a collection of slightly linked short stories, each connecting in some way to the Harouni family in Pakistan. The stories focus on a wide range of characters: the wealthy Harounis, friends of theirs, servants of theirs, and others. Without exception the stories are beautifully written, with evocative language and complex characters.
That winter she had been in London for a wedding, not a close friend but the wedding of the season, the daughter of some bureaucrat who made a crooked pile on the privatization of a steel mill and couldn’t return to Pakistan because of cases against him in the National Accounyability Bureau–”nabbed,” as they called it, almost a mark of distinction. Late at night, after the mehndi, riding through London in someone’s hilarious car, she’d been in a bad accident. She woke at down in the hospital, severely concussed, and watched a rare snowfall from her bed, a thin drift on the sill, perceptibly gathering as the large flakes settled out of the gray first light and pressed against the window. She couldn’t remember anything at first, where she was, why she was there, sleeping all through the day, until it began to come back, but changed, the experiences of another person.
Also without exception, they are filled with tragedy and human cruelty, often with corruption mixed in as well. Any story that begins happily will take a turn. Most often, the turn occurs when one person acts wrongly toward another. The stories are an intricate portrait of a country in transition from feudalism to modernism. The growing pains are wrenching. I appreciate having read about Pakistan and spent some time in the minds of others, but am glad to be finished with the book. The wonders of the title are all too fleeting in the lives of the book’s characters.
ETA: If you don’t already, visit today’s Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, a wonderful gathering of readers.