Evenings Alone/ Review: In Other Rooms, Other Wonder by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Because I live with my boyfriend, it's only about once or twice a week that I have dinner by myself. The result of this sudden onset of absolute freedom is that I get really giddy and always make the wrong choice. My thought process goes like this:

"C isn't home! I could eat ANYTHING. ANYTHING in the WORLD. I could drive to Huntersville and eat there."

*Spend twenty minutes researching restaurants at a totally unrealistic distance from house*

"ANYTHING AT ALL."

*Spend another twenty minutes looking up a really complicated recipe for souffle and writing down ingredients. As soon as that is done, lose desire to cook.*

"I mean REALLY. I could eat a raccoon and no one would even know. I could throw the bones in the creek that runs past the back of the house."

*Wonder why that would even occur to anyone. Possibly, hunger is making me delirious? Look at watch, realize it's 9:30 and too late to eat out. Get angry.*

"I mean, everyone is so unreasonable."

*Eat junk food. Feel ill. Am full of regret. The end.*

 

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Anyway, let's talk about books. I finally, finally finished the totally wonderful Mueenuddin short stories. This book was shortlisted for the Pulitzer last year, and even though I usually end up sort of hating (because I'm a contrary, obstinate person) the books they pick, this was great. It's a series of short stories about all kinds of different characters associated with a Pakistani feudal family: the Harounis. Mueenuddin is equally effective and sensitive whether he's describing KK Harouni (the family patriarch), or an old gardener on one of the Harouni estates. To me, this ability to see people so clearly across class lines, living such radically different lives, was what was most impressive about the book; the naturalness with which he inhabited such a wide variety of characters (especially considering that this is Mueenuddin's first book). I was full of envy, because this is actually exactly the sort of book I'd like to write. 

The stories are tied together thematically as well: there's a strong current of manipulation. Everyone seems to have two faces: one for ingratiating themselves to the people around them, and another truer one. Desire and ambition are something to be kept secret, to be quietly held in some hidden corner of the self, until an opportunity for realization has been painstakingly extracted. This is especially true for the women (there's many more women characters, as I remember, than men). The other theme here is the static nature of Pakistani life. Maybe static isn't the right word…immobile, maybe. To strive for change or improvement is totally futile. None of the characters that do are able to escape their old selves, their places in the world (to which they were born) for very long. So there's all this manipulation, all this pent-up want, continually wrecking itself against the difficulty of life in Pakistan.

Still, along with this aching longing that is at the heart of the book, there is always some measure of hope, and love. Even if they can't last, those things deserve someone like Mueenuddin to record their passing. 

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