Today on the blog I’m bringing you a guest post from author Suman Mallick, courtesy of Lone Star Book Blog Tours. I’d already added Mallick’s debut novel The Black-Marketer’s Daughter to my TBR pile, and his post has moved the book to the top of the stack! The story behind the story is as compelling as the praise it has already received.
Read on for the synopsis, Mallick’s guest post titled “The Story Behind the Story” and be sure to check out other stops on the Lone Star book blog tour for reviews, author interviews, and an excerpt of the novel!
THE BLACK-MARKETER’S DAUGHTER
Category: Contemporary / Literary Fiction / Multicultural
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Date of Publication: October 13, 2020
Number of Pages: 166 pages
SYNOPSIS: The Black Marketer’s Daughter
Zuleikha arrives in the US from Lahore, Pakistan, by marriage, having trained as a pianist without ever owning a real piano. Now she finally has one-a wedding present from her husband-but nevertheless finds it difficult to get used to her new role of a suburban middle-class housewife who has an abundance of time to play it.
Haunted by the imaginary worlds of the confiscated contraband books and movies that her father trafficked in to pay for her education and her dowry, and unable to reconcile them with the expectations of the real world of her present, she ends up as the central figure in a scandal that catapults her into the public eye and plays out in equal measures in the local news and in backroom deliberations, all fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria.
The Black-Marketer’s Daughter was a finalist for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize, and praised by the jury as a “complicated and compelling story” of our times, with two key cornerstones of the novel being the unsympathetic voice with which Mallick, almost objectively, relays catastrophic and deeply emotional events, and the unsparing eye with which he illuminates the different angles and conflicting interests at work in a complex situation. The cumulative effects, while deliberately unsettling to readers, nevertheless keeps them glued to the pages out of sheer curiosity about what will happen next.
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PRAISE FOR THE BLACK-MARKETER’S DAUGHTER
"Mallick offers an impressively realistic depiction of a woman caught between tradition, family, and her own sense of empowerment." ~ Kirkus Reviews "The Black-Marketer's Daughter is a key-hole look at a few things: a mismatched marriage, the plight of immigrants in the U.S., the emotional toll of culture shock, and the brutal way Muslim women are treated, especially by men within their own community. Titling it—defining the heroine by her relationship to a man rather than as a woman in her own right—suggests how deeply ingrained that inequality can be." ~ IndieReader Reviews "The Black-Marketer's Daughter is the portrait of a woman who endures violence, intimidation, xenophobia and grief, and yet refuses to be called a victim. In this slender novel, Suman Mallick deftly navigates the funhouse maze of immigrant life in contemporary America—around each corner the possibility of a delight, a terror, or a distorted reflection of oneself." ~ Matthew Valentine, Winner, Montana Prize for Fiction; Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
By Suman Mallick
The Black-Marketer’s Daughter gets its life from the age-old struggle to reconcile one’s upbringing, position, and responsibilities with idealized notions about romance, marriage, and sex, especially when the gap between the former and the latter is extended due to cultural displacement. In it, a young woman arrives in the US from Pakistan by marriage, having trained as a pianist without every owning a real piano. When she tires of her husband’s expectations and the lack of romance in her marriage, she embarks on an affair with a married man which, upon discovery, makes her the central figure in a scandal that catapults her into the public eye and plays out in equal measures in the local news and in backroom deliberations, all fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria.
The novel was inspired by an unpublished short story of mine, which itself was inspired when Malala Yousafzai was shot in a school bus for being an activist for female education in 2012. Like countless others, I followed Malala’s story—her recovery, subsequent winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, the continuation of her education in England, and the publication of her heralded memoir—with more than a passing curiosity, and have continued to be overjoyed and inspired by her successes. From the outset, however, it wasn’t just Malala’s fate that I fretted about, because it was soon clear that she was either going to die from her injuries and be hailed as a martyr for her cause, or recover from them and be revered as a hero and an icon, perhaps (but hopefully not) to be attacked again in the future. What interested me more were the untold stories of countless other girls just like Malala who, because of circumstances beyond their control, suffered both physically and emotionally, and died, or continue to suffer and die, needlessly and with nowhere near the public awareness, outrage, and support.
In my story “Sawra Bibi,” I wrote about such a young girl named Zuleikha, who grows up in the picturesque Swat Valley of Pakistan. Zuleikha’s next door neighbor and best friend is a girl whose father—not unlike that of the real-life Malala—is a school principal who believes in the education of his daughter. Unlike this other girl, however, Zuleikha’s life is spoken for from the moment she is born. In the form of journal entries, the story opens with a young Zuleikha being afraid of traditional Pakistani garments hanging from clotheslines between the two households; at bedtime, they look to her like headless ghosts. She is told that people call her Sawra Bibi (meaning bent or crooked woman), to tease her about her slightly crooked nose, and does not know that the nickname carries with it a double meaning (the word sawra also means broken) and the weight of something far more sinister. She does not know that in order to settle a longstanding family debt, she was promised at birth to be given in marriage to a much older man in town. Upon learning this secret, and unable to accept the future that awaits her, especially when compared to that of her friend, Zuleikha writes a final entry in her diary and attempts to join the headless ghosts by hanging herself.
Needless to say, by the time I began work on the novel during the winter of 2015 at Portland State University, I had had a long time to let this character, Zuleikha, grow inside my head. In my mind, the story arc of the novel commences after Zuleikha survives her suicide attempt, and her family abandons the family home and her father’s business and moves to Lahore, twelve hours by bus from Swat Valley, to avoid the shame, scrutiny, gossip, and retribution that might reasonably be expected to follow the events of “Sawra Bibi.” In somewhat of a plot twist given the location and its culture, I imagined Zuleikha’s father undergoing more of a transformation than her mother following the suicide attempt, and becoming more indulgent in his daughter’s well-being and more progressive about her upbringing. He not only supports her education, but also conceives the idea of marrying her off to a western man of Pakistani descent, so that Zuleikha will completely escape her past and end up with an even “better” life than the neighbor and best friend she left behind in the Swat Valley. That is how she ends up in the US, and the events in the novel transpire from there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Suman Mallick received his MFA from Portland State University and is the assistant managing editor of the quarterly literary magazine Under the Gum Tree. He lives in Texas.
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