Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The New Yorker: "A Spoiled Man" by Daniyal Mueenuddin

This is the second story of Mueenuddin’s to appear in The New Yorker since I began this project, the first being in August 2007. Like the previous story, the specifics of daily life in Pakistan are engaging enough to make the work enjoyable, but I’m left with questions as to what the story is really about, which suggests that the story works on the surface but doesn’t hang together at depth. Here we have Rezak, an aging laborer who is estranged from his family who, through good fortune but also his effort and character, comes to work for a wealthy man and his American wife on their estate in the hills above Islamabad. There is tragedy in Rezak’s past, but now he has his “house” (a crate he has built and fitted out), more salary than he’s earned in his life, and he can even afford goats. With his new-found wealth, he acquires a wife—a simple-minded girl who seems to settle in with him—who might produce children who will care for him in his old age. The girl disappears and the police do little to help, even when the rich boss’s powerful friends apply pressure. Rezak dies. The end.

Is Rezak a spoiled man? Only in an ironic sense. His life is more comfortable than it has ever been—until his wife’s disappearance—but he has earned the comfort through his work, so he’s scarcely spoiled. There’s another man in the story who is spoiled, though, and that’s Rezak’s absent boss, Harouni, married to the American. Not only does he have a patient, gracious wife and a son, he also has an estate and servants and friends and leisure. No doubt we are meant to make a comparison between the two men. But even with this comparison, what are we to make of the story?

September 15, 2008: “A Spoiled Man” by Daniyal Mueenuddin

3 comments:

E.P. Chiew said...

Cliff: I see he made BASS 2008. His mother was apparently a mover and shaker in NY society, which might explain partially how he got his first break, and then the rest ...well, how many contemporary short story writers hailing from Pakistan do we have at the moment?

In any case, I read your post about A Spoiled Man and I'm off to read it for myself.

Want to talk about it afterwards?

Tim said...

Yes, Rezak is "spoiled" in an ironic sense but that's the sense he comes to believe, that he was blessed beyond his merits and was justly knocked down when he tried to keep what had become his own, his feebleminded wife. "In Rezak's mind, good fortune and grace were wound together…." Better to live in obscurity than to have a goddess (here, the American wife) smile on you.

Anonymous said...

I read this story from a very old new yorker and liked it a lot, enough to look up this writer. The post from Tim way back in 2009 is perceptive and a good analysis. I could really feel the inch by inch struggle of Rezak and sorrow at his loss.