“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid

The New Yorker, Nov. 14 2016

“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid.
Short story. Published in The New Yorker, November 2016.

This is another suggestion from the #ShortFictionSunday hashtag. I always enjoy bringing up stories from The New Yorker – they’re often interesting (they need to be interesting enough to get into The New Yorker!), but since they’re not in a genre magazine, they can seem to be left out of the more “usual” circles and buzz.

What do you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

4 thoughts on ““Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid”

  1. This is another one where I like the idea of the story better than the actual story. It fails, though, because of what I suspect are deliberate choices that will make it a smashing success for people who are looking for something a little different than I am– after all, it got into the New Yorker…

    My issue ends up being that it’s very non-specific. There are a couple of nods toward individual quirks here and there– I liked “Saeed’s father said it meant nothing more than that she had seen a man who wished to fire in another direction”– but Nadia and Saeed and their city remain very vague.

    This is, I suspect, a deliberate aesthetic choice, made to ease the process of projecting the reader into the situation, to serve the rhetorical purpose of the piece. And I suspect this will work really well for a lot of people, but it kind of falls flat for me.

    I’ll make an analogy here that isn’t really intended to belittle the story, though it’s not meant to. But this reminded me a lot of certain kinds of YA fiction, specifically the way that protagonists– like Harry Potter, say, or Will Stanton from Cooper’s _The Dark Is Rising_ series– are kind of lacking in the personality department. I suspect this is deliberate in the same way, in that it makes it really easy for a random kid reading the book to imagine themselves in the place of the protagonist. This works really, really well for a lot of people– JK Rowling’s giant pile of money says hi– but these days, it tends to fall kind of flat for me. At the moment, I’m more fond of books with a really distinctive character voice– keeping in the YA realm, the stuff that Rick Riordan writes (I just finished his new Norse book, which is probably why this analogy comes to mind). These run the risk of putting the reader off if they don’t happen to find a particular narrator congenial– Riordan’s Apollo book falls a hair on the wrong side of that line for me– but a successful narrative voice can elevate a weak plot in a way that puts it ahead of a better plot with a weaker voice.

    But, again, this is a personal preference, and I suspect the non-specificity that I find distancing will read as universalizing to a lot of people. For me, though, I think I’d like this better if it were told in Nadia’s own voice, with a bit more individuality.

    (My reaction to this is also probably colored by the fact that I had dinner last year with somebody who escaped an actual city under siege through a chain of events that, described perfectly literally, is not a whole lot less magical than “walked through a door and woke up in Greece.” This story kind of pales in comparison to that one…)

    1. This is interesting — I think my opinions are practically a mirror-image of yours. I think I really liked the exact things you disliked 🙂
      …which I think is exactly what you were getting at in your opening paragraph.

  2. I remember reading somewhere a quote along the lines of: SF stories imagine horrific post-apocalyptic scenarios of societal collapse that are 100% identical to what’s going on in some countries right now.

    I feel like the story is, to a large extent, *about* that. It feels like something very, very different if you take the city to be, say, New York City, or if you take it to be, say, Aleppo. But why, really, should they feel different? Only because I identify one as being “close” and the other as being “distant”. To the people there, what seems SF-nal to me is their reality.

    There’s some bits and snippets to point us in each direction. (Are Saeed and Nadia part of an immigrant Arab community? Or are we in an Arab country to begin with?) But the ambiguity itself is… thought-provoking.

  3. What I thought was extremely well done, and indeed the story’s primary strength, is the many vivid details. It’s a story composed of details. From the very start – a teacher *almost* being shot by *maybe* a former student, which really brings home the danger, the feeling of a world gone mad and turned upon itself, and the fear and lack of clarity.

    Nearly every paragraph adds some observation or twist; like it’s a tiny little snapshot flash-fiction piece of its own.

    I found it very powerful. @Chad, this is why I don’t feel like I was missing a stronger protagonist POV — we’re not getting the protagonist’s voice, but the narrator’s voice feels very present and distinct. It’s really not a character-oriented story at all (although I very much liked Saeed’s father!); that’s not its focus. At giving us very vivid snapshots, and building a larger picture out of them, I think it does very nicely indeed 🙂

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