April 02, 2010

Daniyal Mueenuudin - Capitalizing on his Pakistani Identity and the Short Story Genre.

Reading Daniyal Mueenuddin's "In Other rooms, Other Wonders" felt like a walking-tour in feudal times, where one saw the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak interacting within the established parameters of a system which may or may not be justifiable to the onlooker. The onlooker, in the course of the tour, notices that there are no apparent hard feelings on either sides; both sides simply live out the given and the achieved, and all within the norms of a feudal Pakistan.

This debut collection of short stories by Mr. Mueenuddin won him the "Story Prize" for outstanding short fiction, and in his acceptance speech, he wondered, “If I were Bulgarian, no one would read my work...I should give half of my paycheck to the Taliban.” It was perhaps this comment of his that made me pick up this book, and finish reading it within a matter of a few hours. The stories are all linked, as they unfold in or about the house of a feudal landlord, Harouni, but the characters in each of the stories are different. There is Hassan the cook, Saleema the heroin addicts wife, Lily the socialite, Rafik the trusted servant, Murad the environmentally conscious businessman, Husna the landlords servant-mistress, and many more such colorful characters that have the reader entranced.

Despite the plethora of enchanting characters, the characterization per se, in all of the stories perplexed me no end and made me research the short story genre, and I was reminded that "the short story tends to reveal character at a crucial moment rather than to develop it through many incidents". This was truly an 'AHA!' moment for me. I felt I had finally put my finger on the theme underlying all the stories, and strangely enough, it was being delivered through some masterful characterization. All, or at least most of the protagonists in the stories are pro active, to begin with, and develop as they go along, even change, but then, all of a sudden, without an explanation or a fight, these protagonists stop and give up, with a sense of deja vu almost. This willful 'giving up' after a certain point, is replayed in almost each of the eight stories. It was this pattern that bothered me each time I finished a story. Now I see that Mr Mueenuddin was working to a plan! He did not want to sermonize or undermine the intelligence of his readers by handing out moralistic tales. Instead, he churned out eight interesting stories with intriguing characters, who all stop short on the last leg of the race they are in, and have the readers wondering why they do so. This was truly brilliant use of a literary technique by Mr Mueenuddin, to eliminate didactic without compromising on the power or the lure of the work.

To a western reader, the book has the lure of romance since it allows for an extended peep into 'other rooms' that are housed in a culture that is alien to a westerner, and thus the scenes witnessed are like the 'other wonders' that fascinate; perhaps a part of Mr Mueenuddin's plan as a writer. Having lived in the west for a major part of his life, Daniyal Mueenuddin must have sensed the cravings of western readership that is still intrigued by anything remotely associated with the Islamic world, and so Mr. Mueenuddin delivered and won. Not intending to undermine Mr Mueenuddins literary achievement in any way, but I would be curious to know how this collection of stories was received in Pakistan. Did it receive any national awards, or did it go by unnoticed like many other debut writings since there was no novelty in it for the Pakistani reader? I would also keep an eye out for his next book; will it have a different setting? Will he select a different genre this time?

"In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" is undoubtedly a very interesting read, and a must for those who enjoy or want to explore the short story genre.


Rati Parker said...

Hi Id it is,

I am definitely inspired to read "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders"

Thanks for stopping by at my blog...have expreesed my view on ur comment there...

D said...

Well... i never knew that"short story tends to reveal character at a crucial moment rather than to develop it through many incidents"...guess i need to do some rethinking myself..will try and read this one for sure...

EXSENO said...

I think if I was to see this book on a shelf the title alone would draw me to at least have a look at it and I really liked your review.

Another plus for me is, I have to admit that I prefer a book of short story's.
I like a good novel as well but these days it seems like it takes me to long to get back to them when I have to put them down.

starry said...

Thanks for the wonderful and ndepth review.I think I would like to read this book, sounds interesting.

Eshuneutics said...

This gave me a lot of food for thought. I hope you are well and reading a lot as always!

Georg said...

Bonjour Id,

You are right: it might be interesting to have the opinion of someone living in Pakistan.

We could try and ask Tazeen/"A reluctant mind".


Georg said...

Bonjour Id,

Well, I wrote to Tazeen. Here is the exchange of mail:

"" Glad to hear that, Tazeen. I'll send this to Id It Is. What about telling me the name of an author YOU LIKE and appreciate writing something meaningful about life in Pakistan. And translated into English. As to me, I could read it in French or German, too.

Cheerio, Tazeen

PS: Why not write this book yourself?

Tazeen Javed wrote:
> Bonjour,
> Quite interestingly, I read his book just last month.
> Personally I did not think much of a book. The stories are similar and esp all women are shown as empty people who will sleep with anyone for money and status. The writer himself is Half Pakistani, his mother is American and he grew up in USA, even his wife is Swedish or something. People are interested in Pakistan and want to read more, but there are not many people who write in English so anyone who does write reasonably well gets famous pretty quickly.
> Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I personally did not like the book much. ""

Id it is said...

Thanks for doing that! That's really nice of you.
Tazeen's comment just corroborates my gut feel after I finished reading these short stories.

cubano said...

I have heard much praise about this book. I should pick up a copy. BTW, I finished Guns, Germs, and Steel which has changed my outlook on the way I see the world :)

pRicky said...

Hey Long time no see... How are you doing?
Don't you think that most writers no have a bloggers mentality and tend to get readers on the base of their sellable character?

CATGIRL said...

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Don’t expect any nosy friendship. Kindly, just read my BLOGS and my facebook profile(whenever it gets activated ..hehehe) on my blog footer once!