In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
W. W. Norton
“Our Lady of Paris”
“Our Lady of Paris” is from Daniyal Mueenuddin’s debut collection, IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS, winner of the 2010 Story Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and the LA Times Book Prize. Mueenuddin’s stories are largely based in Pakistan or in the Pakistani Diaspora. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Law School, his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, and the PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories 2010. Mueenuddin was brought up in Lahore, Pakistan and Elroy, Wisconsin. For a number of years he practiced law in New York.
Mueenuddin commented on his story collection in an interview conducted in The New Yorker.
NY: How do you, as a writer and resident of Pakistan, feel about Pakistan’s precarious state?
DM: Pakistan is clearly in tremendous upheaval right now, facing a real existential crisis. It’s tragic to be in this downward spiral, and I simply don’t see what force can halt it. I think we might have to go through some kind of a purification by fire, and that’s quite likely to happen soon enough. My book isn’t overtly political, but I have certainly tried to show the fading of the old feudal aristocracy and the rise of a much more ruthless business class.
NY: What about censorship in Pakistan?
DM: The degree of self-censorship that exists in Pakistan is very oppressive. When you are trying to describe a whole picture, if you leave out a little dot in a corner, that dot, that absence, will tinge the entire description. In Pakistan, there are subjects that cannot be talked about except in the most conventional terms. And I find that very oppressive. Even though, as I say, my writing is not overtly political.
NY: Characters in your book are closely observed; you reveal how insulated the different social classes are from one another. How did it come about that you were able to hear these stories and meet these characters?
DM: I lived in various different worlds. In the city, I moved among people who were well off and I knew that world very well. But then I lived on a farm, with all sorts of characters unlike the people I knew in the city. I was also doing a lot of business, and when you are doing business in Pakistan, you get to know the people you are doing business with very well. You manipulate them and they manipulate you. There’s a kind of intimacy among business partners, and because money is at stake, you make it a point to study the people involved very closely, so I got to see all these different types of people, from the top to the bottom.
NY: Characters that appear in one story sometimes appear later in another story, in a minor way.
DM: When I began writing the stories, I was very conscious of the fact that I was trying to people a whole world. I wanted to make a large canvas, and the novel that I am writing now will also be part of that canvas. Someday I want to create an entire world. And so as I started writing, I would see how different things could fit together. There were things that could go in here as well as there, and that could bind both stories together. Then, when I was putting the book together, there was a second phase in which I would realize that this guy is a lot like that other guy in the other story, so I would merge them instead of making them two different characters. So partly the stories were organically built to mesh together, but partly, when I had finished and I was selecting eight stories for the collection from the twenty-five or so that I had written, I deliberately brought them into conformity with each other.