Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and Lahore With Love: A Collection of Short Stories and a Memoir

Mueenuddin, Daniyal. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. NY: Norton, 2009.
1st Floor Smith Memorial PR 9540 .9 .M84 I52 2009.

Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. Lahore with Love: Growing Up with Girlfriends, Pakistani-Style. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010.
Burling 2nd Floor HQ1745.5.Z9 L332 2010

R. Stuhr

I have, in the past month, read two books by Pakistani authors. I read Afzal-Khan's memoir at the request of the Multicultural Review and Mueenuddin's collection of short stories because he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and I was recently browsing through some lists of award winning (nearly award winning) authors. Both books are collections of discreet chapters, connected through time, place, characters, and theme.

Afzal-Khan's book is a memoir of her years growing up in Pakistan with a close circle of female friends. As she and her friends progress through childhood and school, Pakistan's political climate changes ineluctably to restrict the rights of and opportunities available to women. In Afzal-Khan's privileged world, the reality of these changes are slow to sink in. Afzal-Khan recounts the stories of her friends, several of whose lives ended tragically in no small part because of the oppressive conditions under which they lived. Afzal-Khan's life turns out differently, if not without her own inner darkness, in part because of her rebellious nature and in part because she leaves Pakistan for the United States to attend graduate l, ultimately marrying and settling there.

Afzal-Khan does not presume to have the answers; she is humble. She honors her friends and recognizes that she would not be the person she is if they had not been part of her childhood.

Mueenuddin's collection of short stories are all connected through the presence of the character K. K. Harouni, an industrialist and landowner. Mueenuddin writes about a Pakistan where the social heirarchy is a determining factor in one's well being. The wealthy thrive and the less fortunate derive ways to prosper through the largesse and inattention of their wealthy employers and benefactors. Success is as much about scheming and plotting as it is about birth and connections--it must be one or the other. The status of women is a significant aspect of each story. Mueenuddin's women rely on their intelligence and instinct to survive, but also prosper and fail according to the desires and whims of the men in their lives.

Some of the stories revolve around the lives of the servants of K. K. Harouni and others focus on his far flung family and others in the land owning classes. Rich or poor, no one has what they want and disappointment accompanies death. Power and peonage with their attendant and relative privileges and hardships provide a structure to each story.

Both Mueenuddin's and Afzal-Khan's books can be read as a whole or dipped into for a chapter here and there. But, if you start at the beginning, you are certain to want to read both in their entirety.

Afzal-Khan writes on literature and the condition of Muslim women. This is Daniyal Mueenuddin first published collection. His stories have appeared in Granta and The New Yorker.

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