We've been quite keen on Daniyal Mueenuddin's debut collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, so we're delighted to have him sit for a Three Minute Interview (3MI), combined with a special Friday giveaway at the end. Remember the 3MI rules - the first three questions are custom, the remaining seven are the same for all comers.
Mueenuddin was brought up in Lahore, Pakistan and Elroy, Wisconsin. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale Law School, his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, and The Best American Short Stories 2008, selected by Salman Rushdie. For a number of years he practiced law in New York. He now lives on a farm in Pakistan’s southern Punjab.
1) Please tell us a little bit about the genesis of your short story collection and feel free, if you are so moved, to weigh in on the increasingly popular notion of "linked stories"?
DM: Since graduating from college in the US, I’ve lived in Pakistan on-and-off, managing a family farm in south Punjab. In the course of running this business I’ve met all sorts of characters, have come to know an isolated, intense, feudal world – the feudal aspect of it being important, because the feudal life is one of profoundly ramified connections.
For the first many years while living here I wrote only poetry, and so made little use of this material. After undergoing a period of time as a lawyer in the U.S., which cured me of most worldly ambitions, I consciously decided to switch from poetry to prose. Short stories appealed to me more than a novel, for my maiden effort – they require more discipline, curb self-indulgence – and then, there’s less likelihood of slogging into a swamp and wasting years wandering knee deep in background story and the lives of peripheral characters. As for the notion of connected stories, most good collections tell a larger story, the story of the whole.
2) Please tell us what it was like to have Salman Rushdie select one of your stories for Best American Short Stories of 2008? How did you find out?
Undiluted joy, of course. At that time my book had not come out, I had published only two or three little stories. That Salman Rushdie knew my name – seemed in itself a miracle. It came out of the blue, an email from my agent Bill Clegg – who has the wonderful habit of surprising me with little and big successes, publications and sales, etc.
3) What do you think America's top misconception about Pakistan is?
Many of your readers will remember Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts – from which:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along….
The point is, that while great atrocities are committed, and the world stares, most Pakistanis go on with their wolfish or doggy lives – terrorism is only a small part of our daily experience. Life is job and family and little things.
Having said that, it’s quite possible that there will sooner or later be great disruptions in Pakistan, in which case our lives will change profoundly – and perhaps your lives in the West will be changed too, if the extremists prevail in Pakistan and have safe haven or – God forbid – have nukes.
4) What is the best book we've never heard of?
Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter
5) Windows or Mac?
Windows – Mac doesn’t work in the third world – nobody understands how to troubleshoot it, the old programs and Chinese etc. programs are not compatible. I often wish, however, that all the Microsoft engineers had a single neck – and I were the barber.
Livelihood, loyalty to place, fascination with the landscape and people, desire to explore this aspect of my identity – and stories, characters, predicaments. Life here in the Pakistan’s bushiest boonies is red of tooth and claw, more colorful and intense than any other place I’ve been.
7) What was the most memorable meal of your life?
Living in Oslo on a Fulbright, I met the woman who is now my wife. At the time I owned for cooking gear: one glass, one knife, one spoon, one plate, one bowl, and a water boiler. Literally the day after we met I went out and bought pots, pans, glasses, flatware, a whole elaborate kitchen. Egg timer. Things I’ve never used. Those wooden skewers for shish kebab that lurk for years in your kitchen drawers. I toiled over stove and saucepan through noons and nights, cookbooks flying, reaching a crescendo at the end of ten days - osso buco with tomatoes, olives and gremolata (try finding veal shank in Oslo – not easy), mashed yellow turnips with crispy shallots, Barefoot Contessa Caesar salad, and for desert, Mrs. Iskian’s cheese cake. For breakfast I served a parmesan, ham and mushroom frittata.
8) What was the last library book you took out and why?
A book of V.S. Pritchett’s essays – I had just finished reading his collected short stories, and was ravenous for more, couldn’t wait for Amazon to deliver. (I was living in the US at the time – where I live in Pakistan we have neither libraries nor Amazon.)
9) Name three things on your desk right now that aren't books or computer equipment.
A bottle of Tabasco sauce, for my mid-morning cheese toast; a VHF phone; a rosewood box that someone gave me, with a cover made from a Ding Dong Bubble bubble gum package – a bizarre cat logo on a blue background, with big bells attached to its Tom-and-Jerry ears.
10) What's at the top of your Netflix queue?
No delivery, I’m reliant on bootleg from the local market, Legally Blonde II being the medium of what’s available.
Thanks to our good friends at Norton, we are pleased to offer five signed copies of Mueenuddin's collection to five lucky TEV readers. Everyone knows the drill, but for those who feign ignorance: Drop us an email, subject line "MICROSOFT'S BARBER". Include your full mailing address. We'll take all entries until 10 p.m. PST at which point the Random Number Generator will do its weekly dance of joy and woe. Anon.
UPDATE: Congratulations to our winners Ruth Freeman, Scott Anreder, Jesse Doris, Kim Allen-Niesen and Megan Sohar.