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Monthly Archives: July 2015

image-2I was given this book by a friend who travels widely in Pakistan. I had often seen it on his shelves; eyes drawn by the gorgeous title. He gave it to me before moving house. I read it while finishing my PGCE, supporting my family through a traumatic upheaval, and moving house myself. A period of considerable stress, for which these short, tightly packed stories seem the perfect antidote.

This collection by Pakistani-American author Mueenuddin is his debut, and has been showered with praise, all of which is emblazoned across the front and back covers, and the first three inside pages. Impressive. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: the title, which is so beautiful and evocative, serves as a good introduction. The short story form, when it is done well, leaves us wanting more; looking back over our shoulders at characters already receding into the background as we enter ‘other rooms’. So it is here.

The characters are all loosely connected, via a large Pakistani landowning family, and the ancient feudalism and traditions of this country. There is an ambient sense of loss that runs through all of these stories. Not melancholic, but looking through old eyes. The collection closes with some of the least interesting characters – a socialite who marries a farming entrepreneur but finds herself craving the unfettered decadence of her unmarried lifestyle in Lahore; bringing misery to herself and her husband. A damning portrait. I’ll be interested to see what Mueenuddin does next.

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imageThe Lowland
is one of those novels that is so vast – not in size, but in scope – that it makes me hesitant to describe it. Lahiri is one of those writers who is really writing worlds; truths, whatever that means. Bringing forth lives and unravelling them meticulously. This novel is about the lives of two brothers and the women who touch their lives. It is also about America and India, and politics, and education, and family, and freedom and what it costs. You know, light stuff. Lahiri’s slow-burning narrative, and lightness of touch lulled me into the immensity of this novel’s highs and lows without feeling as though I was being dragged through mud. No mean feat, considering.

Her greatest achievement with The Lowland, I think, is that each of Lahiri’s characters feels wholly believable – I was going to say ’rounded’ but that is a flawed descriptor; people are rarely ’rounded’, and it would be better to say ‘asymmetrical’ or ‘irregular’. Lahiri draws the two brothers in the romantic/mythic but also often truthful mode: they are two sides of the same coin. Opposing, inseparable, complementary. These men are the anchor of the novel. The women – refreshingly awkward and (again, this word) truthful – are not as they should be, and it is still a joy to read women like this; cut from no discernable pattern, and all the colours of the rainbow. Bravo.