Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In other rooms, other wonders

The beautiful Abby Finwall contemplating July's book
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin was Kathy's excellent choice for July's book club reading. Everyone enjoyed the book, a collection of short stories with a common thread subtly linking them together. The stories cover many aspects of the Pakistani feudal system with the over- arching character being the primary land owner, KK Harouni.  Characters from one story show up in another, albeit in a minor way; you read a name and it rings a bell. The recognition draws you further in the story.

The opening story in the book, my favorite, was about Nawabdin, the electrician who exemplifies the cunning people on the lower end of the feudal scale, who scrape out a living by wheedling, begging, giving and taking favors, cheating, persuading and out and out graft. The people on the upper end of the scale have their own problems trying to do something with their lives. We discussed the particular plight of the women in the book whose lives, whether they are rich and poor, are ultimately in the hands of men. They don't get much support from each other either: as an example of mother love - when Saleema, pregnant, went home to her mother, Saleema catches her stealing from her money pouch. Saleema's mother says to her, "You owe me, you gravid bitch, coming here puffed up after your whoring. This isn't a hotel". Whew....I tried to imagine any woman I know saying such a thing to her own daughter. Life is tough for women, self-determination is simply not possible. It's every man and woman for his or herself.

All of us being word lovers enjoyed the title "sweepress"  - one who sweeps. Saleema refers to a woman as the "slut sweepress", an eye-catching alliteration on the page. The book was well written and many of the paragraphs were good enough that you could go back and read them over several times, if not for content then for the clever wordsmanship.

Ironies abound. In the final story, "A Spoiled Man", Rezak an elderly man who works as a gardener, lives in a box which he has rigged up ingeniously to meet his needs. He has a funnel and pipe spittoon, a mirror and shelf that allow him to shave without getting out of  bed and carefully chosen photographs of actresses on the walls and ceiling to keep him company. Cupboards and drawers are set into the outside walls for his tools, clothes and kits. There's a skylight made of red glass and cleverly engineered evaporative cooling. Guests (this class of people are frequently bored) on the estate where he lives tour the place for fun and one states that "The poor man should have electricity for a radio and for lighting. He lives all alone here, imagine how bored he is." Harouni, the estate owner, says "Are you kidding? These guys don't get bored."

As usual, we ate well. There was humus and pita chips, a delicious ratatouille made from the "end" of Lori's garden, a summer vegetable pasta salad, goat cheese on cucumber appetizers and a goat cheese log wrapped in cranberries. Roxanne served a delicious potion made of an Italian aperitif, Aperol and prosecco, light, refreshing and perfect for a summer meal. Dessert was Susan's rice pudding laced with cardamom which is used frequently in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.

Earlier in the week, Barbara posted some great pictures on her blog http://banardesigns.com from her years at  Hixson and Jorgensen and a discussion of fashion from that era ensued. One of the women in the group office pictures wore an eye catching get-up which included harlequin horn rimmed glasses and elbow length black leather gloves and I think a hat.  It's a long way from there to "casual Fridays" a concept that would have been shocking in that time frame when even  women wearing pants was controversial. Barbara and Nancy recalled wearing shorts and boots and going to a dance at the Ambassador hotel where the group Chicago was playing. They were admitted free of charge because they were female and wearing shorts (I hope I have this right). They arrived late but heard the last set and were able to go around to all the tables and eat the left-over appetizers and drinks. I would have loved to have been there....but wait, maybe I was!!! Well, maybe not at that particular event but being of the same vintage, one like it, no doubt.

The conversation jumped from short shorts to dress shields -  Kathy recalled them being permanently attached to better clothes. Our "madwoman" Barbara talked of her time working as an art director with a photographer who was shooting a model wearing very expensive clothing. The model perspired on the clothes and Barbara was chastised for not telling her to wear dress shields, something she'd never heard of. Dress shields and perspiration opened the way for Beth to tell us about her experience modeling at a nudist colony. And that's another whole hilarious story involving naked sky divers dressed in native
American costume and MORE.

There were more interesting conversations on-going but unfortunately I can hear only one end of the table so if I've missed something pithy, I apologize.

Rox picked the book for August,  Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart -  a light summer read. She has contacted the author, who is former chairman of the Fine Arts Department at University of San Diego and a professional cellist. She lives in La Mesa and is now over 90 years old.  


  1. Reading this was almost as much fun as being there. I loved the book and now I have a perfect synopsis to come back and read after I've forgotten the book, which doesn't take me long to do.
    Sorry you couldn't get a photo of the book without my pesky cat in it. She's beginning to think she's a member of the book club.

    I really love your book reviews!!! And your reviews of our conversations deserve a wider audience. You make us sound hilarious...which we are!

  2. Hi. It was a joy to take a break from the *&%$ moving and re-live the book. What's the cats name? I'd like to give her total and complete billing, first and last name - she looked so fetching with the book. We do have hilarious conversations - I wish I could hear both ends of the table. Maybe we need two bloggers - one from the north end and one from the south end.

  3. Good idea about blogs from two ends of the table. Maybe it would be better if we didn't have two conversations going at once, tho. I hate that! Shall we try a new rule? Hard to imagine anyone abiding by it, but we could try.

    The cat's name is Abby Finwall.