Hands down, this book should have won the National Book Critics Award. I usually struggle with books of short stories, but this was a pleasure to readHands down, this book should have won the National Book Critics Award. I usually struggle with books of short stories, but this was a pleasure to read, thought-provoking and insightful, the characters staying in your head long after you finish reading. Mueenuddin captures both modern and traditional Pakistan, the villagers and servants who've lived the same way for generations, and the modern upheaval of their worlds as caste society changes and the once powerful are thrown down. There's much jockeying in these stories, for power, for love, for position, and Mueenuddin encapsulates the humor and pathos and violence of Pakistani life in these mostly short pieces. I couldn't get enough.
Here's a bit from "Our Lady of Paris," in which the narrator describes Helen, the American girlfriend of his aristocratic Pakistani protagonist:
"She paused at the door, a pretty girl, unmistakably American, her short hair held back with a tortoiseshell barrette. She had lived among and through books, in high school and then college, won a scholarship at Yale. Paris had been a dream from her childhood, when her single mother could not take her places, not to Europe. Walking across the room and opening the window, she looked out over a cloister, then across the Seine to the Pantheon and the city beyond. A phrase came to her mind--my barefoot need--another phrase from a book. She did not want Sohail to see this It had begun raining again and the slate roofs opposite shed streams of water."