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Stories From Two Bright New Literary Voices

Mar 31, 2009

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Justin Torres

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Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast hosted by NPR's Lynn Neary. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Discovery is one of the joys of reading. Discovering a book you have to stay up all night to finish. Discovering a world you never knew existed. Discovering an author you never heard of before. Two new authors whom people are just beginning to discover are Daniyal Mueenuddin and Justin Torres.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Mueenuddin's literary debut, is a series of linked short stories that bring the reader into the fading world of Pakistan's feudal society. All the characters in the book are connected in some way to a wealthy landlord. The servants depend on him for everything. The wealthy need his power and connections.

Mueenuddin, born of an American mother and a Pakistani father, grew up mostly in Pakistan but was educated in the United States. Now he runs his family's farm in Pakistan's southern Punjab region. He has drawn on his experiences there to create the vivid characters who inhabit his stories. From the lowly maid who tries to use sex to improve her life to the clever electrician who has a way of getting what he wants, these are characters — and stories — that make a reader want more.

Until recently, Torres was selling books at New York's McNally Jackson bookstore. He returned there recently, along with Mueenuddin, to read some of his works for an event celebrating new writers that was sponsored by Granta magazine.

Torres' short story, "Lessons," is made up of three vignettes that focus on his family: his two brothers; his lazy, but loving mother; and his powerful, charismatic and, at times, scary father. He is the kind of father who teaches his son to swim by letting go of him in the deepest darkest part of the lake. And the lesson taken from that experience is both poignant and surprising. "Lessons" was published in Granta's recent issue about fathers, and although Torres does not yet have a book published, this new literary voice clearly has a bright future.

Mueenuddin and Torres read their stories on March 17 at the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York.

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Recorded at McNally Jackson, New York.

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