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