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4.2 out of 5 stars
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 April 2010
This is a wonderful collection of eight short stories all loosely related to the household of a Pakistani land owner's estate. Each story is almost perfectly formed with a clear arc of a story and a poignant ending. We hear about the lives of the poorest servants as well as the land owners and their rich offspring. Everyone is trying to make the most out of what they have - trying to maintain their wealth, status, or power, all set against a fascinating change in society where the feudal system still hangs on - just. What is fascinating to the western reader is that there is no real middle class - and so the gaps in who has what are immense and largely unsurmountable.

This is a Pakistan that is seldom seen in the media. We see the status that a new motor cycle confers on a talented electrician, and the sexual shenanigans going on in all levels of society. For the servants, this is often used to gain security (usually with little success) while for the young, rich, it's often from boredom and as a kind of rebellion against the traditional expectations. I was surprised that religion plays almost no part in these stories, but then that probably illustrates the impact that the media has had on our views of Pakistani life.

Each story quickly gets you into the lives of these people who experience life in vastly different ways - which is no small achievement - and this beautifully demonstrates the complexity of the reality. The individual parts are each superb but the collected whole is so much better. If pushed to pick a favourite, then Our Lady of Paris is as perfect a short story as I think I have ever read.

Superb. Highly recommended and I look forward to more from this author for whom this is a staggeringly assured debut.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 April 2015
Daniyal Mueenuddin was born in Los Angeles but educated in Lahore and, from the age of 13, in the US. After returning to Pakistan to manage his family’s mango farm he returned to the US and gained a law degree. He practiced law for several years before turning to writing. This book of three new short stories together with five already published appeared in 2009. He lives in Pakistan, manages his family farm and writes.

This background is relevant because, in his stories and characters, the author presents both an internal and external perspective of rural and urban Pakistan. He also adopts a style that is repetitive, and ultimately frustrating, in its use of longish sentences divided by multiple commas.

The stories are linked through K. K. Harouni, a Pakistani landowner and industrialist whose resources are collapsing, his family, servants and acquaintances. Harouni, rarely seen but whose influence runs through each story, lives in Lahore and his family have owned rich farmland in Danyapur for over a century; his daughters live in Karachi, Paris, and New York, and rarely visit.

The relationships between the characters, the contrasts between the extra-ordinary wealthy and the servants and labourers [the middle-classes are all but absent], and between Pakistanis and Americans are fascinatingly described, springing from the author’s background and experience. Much less convincing is his handling of dialogue.

Descriptions of life in Pakistan and the rural and urban landscapes capture the imagination seen through the eyes of a visitor rather than an inhabitant. Social changes - landowners selling land piecemeal to ensure their lifestyles continue for another generation, the growth of industrialisation over feudal agriculture and the importance of contacts with, and payments to senior politicians, judges and policemen are all graphically conveyed. This is, of course, a man’s world although women, born without privilege, can progress through marriage or service. However, the benefits are rarely long-lasting and can result in the jealousy of family members or other servants.

The most convincing story is ‘Saleema’ which describes the tender relationship that develops between a girl who seeks to escape poverty by marrying but her husband succumbs to drug addiction. Saleema is hired as a servant at Harouni’s Lahore mansion and finds love with Harouni’s longtime servant, Rafik, 40 years her senior, who has never before been unfaithful. The title story has Husna, who previously served Harouni’s estranged first wife ‘in an indefinite capacity’, seeking a post in his house and shows their developing relationship. Husna is much more calculating than Saleema and, whilst both end up badly treated after the deaths of their lovers [although it was within their gift to prevent this happening], it is Saleema who is more deserving of sympathy.

In ‘Provide, Provide’, another rather similar story, involves Jaglani, the manager of Harouni’s southern Punjab estate who explains his power by saying ‘I have so much because I took what I wanted’, and Zainab, the sister of his chauffeur, suggesting that perhaps the author widens his work.

The endemic corruption is evident in ‘About a Burning Girl’, narrated by a judge who admits that ‘I render decisions based on the relative pressures brought to bear on me.’ The judge fears that ‘someone senior to me will see [my house] and covet it and take it’ and he is very aware that ‘In Pakistan, all things can be arranged.’ The final story, ‘A Spoiled Man’ also describes the extent to which contacts and influence affects the response of the police to the disappearance of a disabled wife and the powerless position in which her husband finds himself. The longest story, ‘Lily’ describing the life of a rich and feckless young woman and her entrepreneurial but socially conservative husband loses some momentum, suggesting that Mueenuddin’s skill is currently best suited to the shorter story.

‘Our Lady of Paris’, mainly set in that city, directly addresses the attitudes of rich Pakistanis, their offspring educated abroad and the difficulties that foreign-born potential partners face when trying to come to terms with family and cultural traditions. As the prospective father-in-law, Mr. Harouni, cousin of K.K. Harouni, explains to his son’s girlfriend, ‘You aren’t weighted down by your families, and you aren’t weighted down by your history.’ It is his wife who understands the impossibility of this cultural and social gap ever being overcome - the past being a roadblock to our imagined paths through life, wherever they may lead.

I look forward to reading the author’s next book with, I hope, many fewer commas, 8/10.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 August 2009
Wow! - this is an extraordinary collection of short stories. Even more extraordinary, since I've now looked him up and find that this is Daniyal Mueenuddin's debut as an author.

After reading the first story in this collection, which are all linked somehow to Mr K K Harouini or his houses or retinue, I was pleased that I had started reading. By the end I was simply astonished at the achievement.

Mueenudin's device allows him to explore different classes and types within Pakistan; from the old and new Punjabi farmers to the industrialists, from the upper class educated at Yale or Oxford and used to spending time in London and New York, to the servants and hangers on depending on patronage and the giving and receiving of favours in a society that's moved from the feudal to a new mobility in a staggeringly short period.

Corruption is everywhere. Those who are not calculating are cheated - Sohail, the nephew of MR K K Hourani, who has been shielded from much, is described as `a lamb fattened for the slaughter' by his own doting mother to his American girlfriend.

There is love but it is helpless against the stronger forces of family, money and status. As Sohail himself quotes `but the dull need to make some kind of house/ out of the life lived and the love spent'.

Women get a raw deal in this collection; the working class trade sex for advancement, food and clothes but it's transitory. The better born and moneyed are still dependent and bored by their restrictions or their revolt from those restrictions.

The language alters to suit the subjects of each story. It is simple, straightforward and earthy in the narrative of Nawabdin Electrician (who incidentally seems to have the only happy marriage in this book), and has resonances to match the voices of the more westernised and sophisticated dialogue in the stories Lily and Our Lady of Paris.

This collection reminded me of by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck, in that they give such a rich evocation of one country and its past (here Pakistan, in the other collection, Nigeria) and then juxtaposes that with the modern day and an American, rather than British colonial view.

I've been reading other Pakistani authors recently; Kamila Sahmsie and Nadeem Aslam. Mueenuddin is in the same league.

If this book were a novel rather than a collection of short stories I am sure it would be up for the big prizes. It deserves them.
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on 21 October 2013
This collection of short stories, set in and around modern day Lahore, captures the very different experiences of rich land-owning Pakistanis and poor, impoverished indentured servants. Each story traces events particular to one individual. Several end unexpectedly, leaving the reader to ponder on the - mostly unhappy - life experiences and behaviours of the main characters. The book evokes the inner thoughts and lives of the characters and presents an intriguing set of insights into the choices and life chances of the better off, and haphazardness of the lot of those born into the lower echelons of Pakistani society. The stories are linked by a common thread, but each stands alone. It was an interesting book, worth reading but as other reviewers have said, hard to say you enjoyed it due to the sad or pitiful twists and turns that befell so many of the characters.
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on 9 January 2011
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a great collection of short stories. Each story stands alone but they are all linked as they are about the relatives and servants of wealthy Pakistani landowner Mr K K Harouni whose estates are near Lahore. The writing is crisp and unsentimental, the characters are authentic if not always sympathetic and you will find yourself still thinking about them long after the book is finished. If you only want to read stories with happy endings then this is not for you but if you want a very real insight into life in Pakistan across all the class divisions then this is a must-read of a book. Although the stories are sometimes tragic, there are touches of humour throughout. I wish I could write like Daniyal Mueenduddin. Reviewed by Mary Smith author of No More Mulberries
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on 8 January 2017
A heartbreaking book of short stories showing the different lives led by the poor & the wealthy in Pakistan. I despair for Pakistan & wish the people would become more enlightened. Sadly, currently the poor are treated with indifference & contempt. There seems to be little concern for the suffering of the poor. The wealthy people are utterly selfish.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 February 2010
This is a collection of eight linked short stories which describe the overlapping worlds of an extended Pakistani family of landowners. These are stories of the servants and dependants in the worlds of Mr K.K Harouni's overflowing household in Lahore and the peasants on his estates, as well as the parallel worlds of his industrialist relations who have distanced themselves from their feudal past.

The characters in these stories confront the advantages and constraints of their situations, the dissolution of old ways and the associated shock of change. Meet Lily, the socialite who, tired of endless parties, marries a young landlord in an attempt to reinvent herself. There is Nawabdin, the electrician whose light-fingered ingenuity enables him to support his 12 daughters until he loses almost everything. Meet, too, the aged labourer who earns enough money to marry but when his wife disappears shortly afterwards is suspected of murder.

There are no happy stories here: the rich are selfish and shallow, the poor trying hard to survive. And yet the tragedy is leavened, at times, with humour. These stories with their diverse characters, their attempts at love, occasional triumphs, and misunderstandings illustrate the complexities of a class and culture which is in transition.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 26 August 2009
The stories found in the book were nothing new to me, but I have read a number of other books on 'real' Pakistanis and ex-pat Pakistanis.

I can see, how in the current climate, this book will help Others to realise that Pakistanis are real human beings, prone to the same faults, trials, whims and loves as every other human. As a result, it will be appreciated.

I would still recommend this as a read and I got through mine in a day and a half.
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VINE VOICEon 11 October 2010
I really liked the way the author linked all these short stoies by having them revolve around the family and staff of Mr K.K.Harouni, a wealthy Pakistani landowner. However, I would have enjoyed the book more if just a few of them had had happy, or at least redeeming, endings. Each time I got involved with the (well written) characters, only to have their efforts in life struck down in the final pages. While I recognise that in Pakistan, corruption is rife, the poor are very poor and women have to struggle harder than men, I also felt that some of the characters should prevail: some marriages should succeed, some folk be permitted happiness.

The stories provide an interesting view of the extremes of Pakistani society, the wealthy and the very poor, but it left me feeling that the moral of the book was "fight for yourself, care only for your family and loved ones, step on everyone else on the way up and when you die it will all have been for nothing anyway."

Worth a read but in no way uplifting.
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on 18 January 2013
...this collection of short stories by this author. I was left wanting to read more about each story and its characters by the end!. Each story could and really ought to have been novels. Daniyal Mueenuddin writes so beautifully and with sensitivity. Its amazing how acute his depictions are of each character. The dialogue so sophisticated where required. I'm v. impressed and feel a little sad as its finished and I cant seem to find any other books by him on amazon.
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