A New Must-Read


I’ve got a poinsettia on my desk, and the pressure not to let this year’s die of negligence is pretty high. It’s the least I can do for a plant that serves as a positive daily reminder of a certain celebratory time of the year that is fast approaching.

And as 2009 slowly draws to a close, out also come a flurry of annual recap lists for just about anything you can imagine including the usual –movies, albums — and the slightly more obscure — top ten internet searches, the most popular baby names, the best of Bollywood 2009.etc.

A favourite category of mine is books – I always appreciate the recommendations to help me narrow down my choices. And there’s an interesting choice from Asia here.

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Featured in both The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009 and Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Picks of 2009 is In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. This piece of fiction is comprised of eight inter-connected stories exploring the power dynamics of a group of people living in rural Pakistan, and is now on my must-read list for a few reasons. One is because it is by a Pakistani-American author who writes from his current home in southern Punjab and sets his stories there.

The second reason for my interest is Mueenuddin himself. From my experience, good authors lead interesting lives — and he certainly seems to fit the bill. Born in Pakistan, Mueenuddin attended school in the United States from the age of 13 through college and ended up working as a corporate lawyer in New York for a few years before deciding to move back to his father’s Pakistan farm and write. While working from his law office, ‘on the forty-second floor of a black skyscraper in Manhattan,’ a combination of his restlessness and a growing desire to share stories of his homeland with Western readers pushed him there. So he now lives on and manages the agricultural property, producing things like mango and cotton.

The New York Times’ rather romantic review of his latest work calls it a ‘labyrinth of power games and exploits,’ in which Mueenuddin ‘inserts luminous glimmers of longing, loss and, most movingly, unfettered love.’ Meanwhile, Mueenuddin also gained an instant fan in Indian author Salman Rushdie last year, who said of his discovery of one of his stories: ‘It had wit, freshness and suppleness of language, everything a short story should be.’

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