Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Rosewood trees line the
path of K. K. Harouni's estate
I read to go other places and live other lives. But sometimes my lazy, entitled American self stands in the way of things. At least that's how I felt the whole time I was reading Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.

As the summary on Goodreads puts it, these "linked stories describe the interwoven lives of an aging feudal landowner [in Pakistan], his servants and managers, and his extended family, industrialists who have lost touch with the land."

Really, though, it is a study of what happens when people attempt to rise above their station.  Each story is a power struggle, but they all end in a seemingly predetermined way.  The landowners prevail. The wealthy prevail.  The men prevail. Even in the story where it is a wealthy woman as the main character, she cannot overcome her past.  These characters felt so entrenched.

Typical American that I am, I'm always rooting for the scrappy underdogs to lift themselves up by the bootstraps, defeat the system, and achieve their dreams, blah blah blah.

Yep. That's doesn't happen.

Once I got over my overbearingly Western need for happily ever after, I did appreciate these stories.  Mueenuddin picks his characters up one at a time and holds them to the light so that we can see all their flaws as well as their beauty.  Take the woman who sees that she has neither the family ties nor the money to attain a better life so she ingratiates herself to the rich, elderly landowner. You know this a precarious situation--life will be good until something happens to him. When he's gone, she'll lose everything. Yet she takes that gamble with the blinders off. She knows.

Sparrows in Pakistan
Or the woman who leaves her useless drug-addicted husband and take on an older lover.  Although she does this purely out of ambition, she falls in love with him and has a child by him.  Again, her fate, as well as her child's, is tied to his well-being. And in the end she winds up a drug addict and the child "begged in the streets, one of the sparrows of Lahore." (This isn't really a spoiler, you could see it coming a mile away.)

Overall, a sad read that felt devoid of hope. But, it was good to hear these stories, nonetheless.  I can definitely see why Mueenuddin was nominated for the National Book Award.

<I checked this book out of my library.>

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