Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book: In Other Times, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Mueenuddin, Daniyal. 2009. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. New York: W.W. Norton.

Mueenuddin grew up in both Pakistan and the US, including along the way an undergraduate degree in English at Dartmouth, and so is rather uniquely positioned to write a book of short stories about Pakistan, with a special emphasis on life among the relatively well-off.

The stories provide a window into worlds most Americans will never see, and so function as sociology or travelogue as well as fiction. Mueenuddin does not shy from the blunt or unpleasant in pursuit of realism, but does not dwell on them either. Indeed, there is a faint, but only faint, aroma of sentimentality about some of the stories.

I was struck in the stories by the general absence of religion and politics, which are perhaps the two things, along with poverty and heat, that I would most quickly associated with Pakistan. The religion that does appear is gentle and laden with superstition. Related to the suprising absence of religion is the surprising ubiquity of alochol in the lives of well-off Pakastanis. Though off-hand remarks make it clear that the alcohol is obtained illicitly, there seems to be no worry that drinkers will get ratted out to the secular or religious authorities by their servants. I wonder if that remains true today.

Definitely recommended.

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