Monday, October 4, 2010

Other Rooms Other Wonders

The book is a collection of 8 loosely-interconnected stories that take place in Pakistan in the present day. I've read three of the eight stories and reviewed them here in previous years (in fact, this was my third reading of the opening story, "Nawabdin Electrician"). The stories, all together, paint a picture of a society in which the Old way of doing things still hangs on and in which the younger generation struggles to fit, as well as a society in which status still matters greatly. Most of the stories have a very "traveling storyteller" tone to the narration, as I noted in my original review of "Nawabdin Electrician."

I liked each of the stories individually, but felt that perhaps there was a bit too much repetition when all grouped together. The stories "Saleema," "Provide, Provide" and "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" all basically tell the same story from different vantage points and with different main characters. All three are about beautiful but poor young women who see the possibility of securing a better future for themselves by creating romantic/sexual connections with powerful older men. Yes the details of the stories are different but the basic point of the stories is the same. In fact, the basic point of almost all of the stories in this collection might be summed up as "no matter how much you plan and scheme and think you're making the right decision in the moment, nothing is ever 100% certain and life often twists in unexpected ways."

The sameness of the lesson from story to story is the book's only negative. The positives are: a writing style that feels part medieval troubadour, part travelogue; a depth of sensory description that can only be described as "sensual" regardless of whether the author is writing about the weather, the food, or the sex; and a mosaic quality that enables you to see the connections between even the most peripheral of characters. In fact, some of those peripheral connections had me wondering what had happened to certain characters "between the scenes," so to speak, and I wonder if Mueenuddin has other stories with these characters in mind.

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