Tag-Archive for ◊ shafts ◊

• Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Daniyal Mueenuddin was born in 1963 from a Pakistani father and an American mother. His father and mother met in the USA in the late fifties. His mother was working as a reporter for The Washington Post and his father, a Pakistani civil servant, was posted to Washington for the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan brokered by the World Bank.

His parents moved to Pakistan soon after their marriage in 1960. Daniyal was brought up in Lahore where he attended the American School, but at the age of thirteen his parents separated and his mother returned to live in Elroy, Wisconsin and took him and his brother Tamur with her. Daniyal was enrolled in a boarding school in Massachusetts and after four years obtained a degree in English literature.

Daniyal Mueenuddin, after graduating from Dartmouth College and at his aged father’s insistence – his father, now in his late seventies, being a land owner from the old Punjabi feudal system – returned to Pakistan in 1987 in order to live on his father’s land in South Punjab to run the family farm efficiently.

In 1993 he returned to the USA, attended Yale Law School for three years, obtained a degree and worked as a corporate lawyer in a law firm in New York from 1998 to 2001. After resigning, he returned to live in Pakistan, dedicating his time to writing and managing the family farm in Khanpur. He still lives there with his Norwegian wife when he is not in Cairo.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Mueenuddin’s first book published in 2009, has been translated into several languages. It won the Story Prize in 2010, an annual book award for short story collections and he reached the finals for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Best First Book Award and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders is a collection of eight short stories interlaced around a central protagonist, the wealthy landlord K.K. Harouni. It also follows the life of his family, his friends, his entourage and his staff. One of the stories is set in Paris and as for the others, they are mainly set in South Punjab. They originate from the author’s experience as a land owner in this part of Pakistan and many of them were written on the spot. The stories portray colourfully rich characters from the late nineteen seventies and ending just before the new millennium.

The author depicts the privileged life of prosperous Pakistanis, in contrast to their poor peasants, servants, managers and clerks, the lack of job security and government corruption. In each story we invade the intimacy of a master or a subordinate, what the author metaphorically calls: “another room”, in order to discover a new aspect of someone’s life or perhaps even unearth: “another wonder”.

The first story is dedicated to the ambitious Nawabdin, an electrician, handyman and father of thirteen children. He works on the Harouni estate and after begging his employer he obtains his permission to buy a motorcycle which becomes his most priceless acquisition and makes him highly regarded in his entourage. Such a valuable motorcycle enhances his status to such an extent that he will try to save it with his own life from a desperate, destitute thief.

There is also the touching story of Rezak, in A Spoiled Man (the eighth and last story). The indigent peasant, Rezak, has been abandoned and badly treated by his own family. He is a happy-go-lucky hard-working man who, for no fault of his own, is being unfairly tortured and threatened by the corrupt police. This leaves him overwhelmed with sorrow, never to be the same man again and to think that what happened to him was meant for his redemption.

Nawabdin’s story is followed by the story of another servant, Saleema, a young maid working in the Harouni’s household. She is married to a weak and depraved man who takes a few rupees from her everyday to satisfy his addiction to amphetamines, while she sleeps with Hassan the cook in order to obtain favours but ends up falling in love with Rafik, an old married valet from the same household.

In another story, Husna, the poor young secretary, cum companion, cum mistress of the retired civil servant and well-to-do landowner, K.K. Harouni, who lives separated from his estranged wife, is like Saleema, also pinning her hopes on an old man in order to escape poverty and secure herself. The two women’s expectations are unfulfilled and they find themselves once more in the street after their employer dies.

In Provide, Provide, the author, moves one degree higher in rank with K.K. Harouni’s estates manager, the shrewd, Jaglani. He is a devious schemer who manages to sell some of Harouni’s land in Southern Punjab at half price to people around him, earning commissions on each sale and keeping the best pieces of land for himself, convincing Harouni that the price of land has gone down.

In About A Burning Girl, Mian Sarkar, a sessions judge in the Lahore High Court, is another interesting figure in Pakistani society. He has an ambitious, haughty wife and an unpleasant problem with his servant, Khadim, who is accused of having murdered his sister-in-law. Sarkar’s character is humorously illustrated as a well informed detective of trivia: “Everything about the private lives of the judges, and of the staff, down to the lowest sweeper, is to him incidental knowledge. He knows the verdicts of the cases before they have been written, before they even have been conceived”.

The author dedicates his longest story, Lily, to the spoiled, idle rich Pakistani society. His very pretty heroin, Lily, leads a debauched life, partying almost every evening, drinking alcohol, taking drugs and getting what she wants. In order to redeem herself, she marries the wealthy landowner, Murad Talwan, lives with him on his farm, but feels terribly bored because she misses her former life of partying, despite inviting friends to stay over.

In Our Lady In Paris, the author takes us to France’s capital city, Paris. Harouni’s nephew, Sohail, is in love with his Yale university friend, Helen. He introduces Helen to his parents while everybody is on holiday in Paris during the Christmas/New Year holidays to the dismay of his mother, who would have preferred a Pakistani wife for him. Surprisingly, in the last story: A Spoiled Man, Sohail Harouni is married to an American woman he met at University in the U.S.A called Sonya and not Helen. The mystery is unexplained in the novel.

There are several themes that occur throughout the novel, like the feudal system, the array of established social classes and their very different ways of leading their lives: the unfulfilled love, the unhappiness, the corruption, the helplessness of women who more often than not have to resort to sex for survival like: Saleema, Zainab or Husna and the destitution of the poor servants once the master dies. A good insight into the different social strata and its complexities in the modern Pakistan.

The bleakness of the stories, which are beautifully written with a great deal of observed detail, are softened by the author’s compassion for his characters, which can be read between the lines, similar to the shafts of light that pierce the dark gloom and are softened by some well-dispersed humour.

• Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Jenni Mills was born in Birmingham, England, in 1952 and was educated at Edgbaston High School for girls. From 1970 to 1973 Mills studied at Sussex University, followed by an MA with distinction in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University where she is at present tutoring part-time. Jenni Mills wrote most of Crow Stone while preparing for her Creative Writing MA. .

Jenni Mills worked in broadcasting for nearly thirty years before writing her first novel. She has presented and produced programmes for BBC radio, four of which won her an award and has worked as a director for both BBC-TV and ITV. She also works as a freelance television director and has written articles for newspapers and magazines.

Jenni Mills, like her character Katie, has been very fond of archeology since her childhood and the fact that the limestone quarries around where she was brought-up have been mined since Roman times, influenced Mills to write Crow Stone without too much effort.

In one of her interviews, Jenni Mills says she found a quarry near Corsham and went underground there in order to be able to describe in detail what goes on in the mines. She found the experience “thrilling rather than scary”. She conversed with a female mining engineer after Crow Stone was published and realised that she described Kit’s job well, when the woman mining engineer told her: “I believe you were writing about me”. She now lives in Wiltshire, in the West of England.

Jenni Mills has written two novels to date: Crow Stone published in 2007 and The Buried Circle published in 2009.

Crow Stone intertwines the past and present story of Katie, an introverted, vulnerable teenager who lives a difficult, under-pressure life, with her austerely temperamental and violent father since her mother left them when she was small. Katie is a bright student who realises her childhood dream and becomes the successful mining engineer Kit Parry, despite her difficult relationship with her father and her uncovering his atrocious deed in the summer of her fourteenth year which changes her life for ever. The novel follows the evolution of Katie and her interaction with the various occurrences and people that she comes across in life.

After several years of hard work, Kit accepts an interesting project for stabilising the dangerously unstable quarries that run under Bath, her home town that she had left in a big black car when she was fourteen and decided then to change her name to Kit as a new start in life. She has never returned to Bath since then, nor ever seen her father again. All the painful memories that Katie has tried to bury all these years are going to resurface and haunt her on her return, twenty years later. Her father now dead, the adult Katie who becomes Kit is still susceptible on the inside but offensive on the outside. Some wounds are difficult to get rid of, they stay implanted in the psyche for ever.

In her new assignment, Kit has to withstand the hostility of the other male workers in a field dominated by men and where workers believe that a female engineer brings bad luck to the mine shafts. Not everything is negative though – the long sleeping flame is rekindled when Kit finds out that the site manager happens to be the same Gary Bennett that her superficial, foolish, unreliable, friends, Trish and Poppy and herself used to be infatuated with from afar when they were all teenagers.

The author describes masterfully and in an amusing way, the psychology and behaviour of teenage girls portrayed by Katie, Trish and Poppy, whether at school or outside it, underlining Trish’s strong character which contrasts with Poppy’s and Katie’s.

Katie is very enthusiastically passionate about archaeology and geology and ironically the two big events in her life take place while she is in the quarries. Her first disturbingly macabre discovery was at Crow Stone quarry during the summer of her fourteenth birthday and the second fantastically thrilling event of the decade was the uncovering of the lost Roman Mithraic temple with the help of her colleague and friend Martin Ekwall, the senior lecturer in archaeology at Sussex University.

The story takes place in Bath, one of the oldest and most charming cities in England, full of historic relics above and below ground. The author embarks with her readers on a journey of concealed underground labyrinths of quarries and the historic, touristic attractions of Bath, like the famous Royal Crescent built by the eighteenth century Freemason, John Wood. There is also some information about the Mithraic mysterious religion which was practised in the Roman Empire, a cult with a saviour, sacrifice and rebirth.

Crow Stone as the author puts it, is about “fear and survival” and the setting turns out to be perfect on “all levels: mythical, metaphorical and emotional”. A captivating psychological thriller with a well constructed plot.

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