Vacation read #4 was story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. My friend Sarah raved about this book last year, so I grabbed it when I recently saw it at a library book sale.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a collection of interrelated stories that take place in modern Pakistan. The characters in Mueenuddin’s stories range from wealthy landowners and Pakistanis educated in America to servants and farm workers. This isn’t a particularly uplifting collection; the author paints Pakistan as a pretty grim place. The wealthy constantly face the siphoning of their assets by unscrupulous employees and the threat of loss of status and power. The poor are mostly at the mercy of their employers, who control their income and offer little job security. Women are either treated poorly – or are temporarily revered, and then discarded – and are forced to resort to selling their bodies at times to achieve security.
Mueenuddin’s writing is spare and powerful, and his stories are understated. He is skillful at getting inside the heads of his characters – especially, surprisingly, the women – and conveying their inner thoughts and desires. I finished the book a week ago, and while some of the stories bled into each other and are a bit amorphous in my memory, the overall impact of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a powerful one. What a sad country Pakistan is, in so many ways, yet with a culture with its own distinct joys and hopes.
I liked that the stories were linked; some later stories in the collection address unresolved questions from earlier ones. Also, by offering multiple perspectives of the same characters across different chapters, Mueenuddin gives them added depth and provides a more textured, richer picture of Pakistani society.
I recommend this collection and am glad that I read it. I found myself comparing it to Khaled Hosseini’s books (which took place in Afghanistan) and really appreciating the more skillful writing, richer characters, and greater complexity in Mueenuddin’s stories.