Friday, March 12, 2010

Inside Pakistan

The epigraph to In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin's debut collection of eight linked short stories, is a Punjabi proverb: ”Three things for which we kill – Land, women and gold”. All the stories are set in Pakistan, all intersect in some way with the household of a wealthy landowner named K.K. Harouni, and all do indeed revolve around land, women and gold. Some stories are about rich and powerful members of the Punjabi elite, while others are drivers, cooks, managers who serve the rich and try to improve their place in life.

Many of the women characters try to use sex to maneuver themselves into positions of power, but most find themselves kicked to the curb in the end. The men have more options but seem to lack backbone.

Mueenuddin does a great job of showing class differences not with detailed descriptions but with slight gestures that pass between characters. He was born in Lahore (to a Pakistani father and American mother), and he has an insider's view of life in Pakistan. But although the stories often seem to belong quite specifically to the Pakistani culture, they also powerfully reflect the basic human emotions that all readers can recognize.

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