I love William Dalrymple’s books about India and his New York Review of Books articles about the Subcontinent, but I’m starting to think that he and I have very different literary tastes! Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is the second book I’ve picked up because of Dalrymple’s enthusiastic review and found to be somewhat wanting (the other was Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light)!
The short stories in this collection are loosely linked around the personage of K.K. Harouni, a fictional Pakistani feudal landowner, and while they’re certainly interesting, I honestly don’t think they are in the same league as Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories, let alone being competitors to Chekhov, Turgenev and Gogol (as enthusiastically proclaimed in the blurbs by people who may or may not have actually read Chekhov, Turgenev or Gogol!) For one thing, Mueenuddin seems to write exclusively about his own class (he is himself a wealthy half-Pakistani, half-American landowner) and/or their servants and feudal farm laborers, which basically means that all of the stories in this book are more or less the same. I’d already read the best of them (in my opinion of course) in The New Yorker and they didn’t seem to hold up well to a re-read. Moreover, all of the female characters more or less sound the same, be they servants, pampered upper-class ladies or American undergrads at Yale.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders isn’t a bad book, by any means, and Mueenuddin is clearly talented, but I just cannot concur that this is “one of the best books to come out of South Asia in a long time” (which was the quote from Dalrymple’s review on the front cover.)
(Read from March 15-16, 2010)