Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship's Reviews > In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
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's review
Jul 04, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: contemporary, world-books-challenge, pakistan, short-story-collections, 2-stars
Read from June 23 to 25, 2012

World fiction is popular these days, and I love it as much as anyone (probably more than most), but in our enthusiasm for exotic settings, we shouldn't be blinded to the importance of strong plotting and characterization either. Unfortunately, this is a book that lacks those strengths.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a group of eight loosely-connected (and non-chronological) short stories set in Pakistan, about people all connected in one way or another with a wealthy Pakistani family. The connections are quite loose; not being a big fan of short stories, I was hoping the common threads would make the book read more like a novel, but it does not. On the other hand, the individual stories often are not particularly well-structed either. Some (like "Our Lady of Paris") read like chapters in a novel, without a clear beginning, middle or end--except that we don't see those characters again before or after.

The subject matter varies, but for the most part, the stories are either about lovers or about corruption, often combining the two. The three stories with male protagonists are primarily about corruption, and tend to be more unique and interesting (and also shorter). The five with female protagonists are about lovers, and feel rather stale; in fact, three are almost exactly the same story with different names, in which a poor woman finds a place in a well-off man's household, seduces whatever older man is available to give her advantage, then falls on her face when a death puts an end to the affair. By the third time I thought there would be some sort of twist, but there wasn't. Mueenuddin's female characters themselves tend to be flat and uninspired (though the wealthy ones have a bit more complexity). The men are more passable, and probably should have had more starring roles. Even so, perhaps one reason this wasn't a novel is that no one in it, of either gender, seems interesting enough to star in a longer work.

For the most part the book does do a good job at bringing its setting to life. The writing style is competent and evocative, with good use of sensory language, and its greatest strength is that it does open a window into its culture. But the diversity of viewpoints tends to highlight what's missing: where is the middle class? the urban poor? Where is religion? One can't expect everything in such a short book, and I can forgive the author for writing what he knows--but I do expect compelling characters and plots from any book, and in that regard it was a disappointment.
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