Friday, October 16, 2020

The Black-Marketer’s Daughter by Suman Mallick

It’s my pleasure today to welcome a new-to-me author to Thoughts in Progress to tell us about his recent release, THE BLACK-MARKETER’S DAUGHTER.

Praised by the jury of the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize as a “very complicated and compelling story,” Suman Mallick’s debut novel, THE BLACK-MARKETER’S DAUGHTER, explores how traditional Muslim family values clash with an American love affair, and ignite a political firestorm fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria. 

The Black-Marketer’s Daughter
By Suman Mallick
*Publisher: Atmosphere Press
*Publish Date: Oct 13th, 2020
*Distribution: Ingram
*Paperback: $17.99
*ISBN-13: 9781648261541
*Page count: 166
*Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction

When a Muslim woman in an arranged marriage is discovered having an illicit affair, violent, fatal consequences ensue, which catapult her into the epicenter of a political firestorm fueled by anti-Muslim hysteria.


When Zuleikha arrives in Texas via arranged marriage from Pakistan, she soon realizes how different life in America is from the portrayals in the confiscated contraband books and movies her father trafficked in to pay for her education and dowry. Having trained as a pianist without ever owning a real piano, she finally has one—a wedding present from her husband. As Zuleikha learns to navigate her new role as a suburban middle-class housewife, she begins to feel diminished by her seemingly kind husband’s regular dismissal. She offers piano lessons to the neighborhood kids, and in doing so begins to find her identity and independence.


Everything changes when Patrick—the father of her young son’s friend—signs up for lessons himself. Zuleihka and Patrick grow closer, and Zuleihka finds herself in love for the first time. Zuleihka is caught between being a good Muslim wife and obedient daughter, and following her heart. Despite how careful she is, the affair is eventually discovered, leading to horrific violence with gruesome and fatal consequences. The ensuing circumstances catapult Zuleihka into the glare of the public eye in a foreign land, where she finds herself at the epicenter of a political firestorm fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria, with different people seemingly using her situation to advance their own hidden agendas.


Now please join me in giving a warm welcome to Suman so is graciously answering some questions about his book and writing. Welcome, Suman.


What inspired you to write this story?



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. When Malala was shot, I found myself caring deeply for her, but just as much if not more about the untold stories of many other girls like her who suffer and sometimes die under very similar circumstances, but with nowhere near the same level of coverage or outrage. My initial short story was based on a girl like that; she was sharp but ultimately a bit hapless (as a pre-pubescent teen faced with a hopeless fate.) She tries to cope with her situation in a self-destructive way. But in the novel, that young girl has survived, and she is grown up, married, in the US, and dealing with new challenges in her life. I only started writing the novel itself while enrolled in my MFA program at Portland State University, in the winter of 2015, and finished it by the summer of 2016.


Your main character is a woman, how was it writing from a female perspective?



It was terrifying, challenging, but ultimately extremely rewarding. I had an ambitious plan to do something totally different during my two years at the MFA: write in styles and from perspectives that were unlike my own, and also experiment with other forms in which I had no experience (like plays). This was the fourth of six stories with female protagonists that I wrote at that time… this one just happened to keep going and become long enough for a short novel.


But while writing it, over the course of a year I read about sixty books by women authors and with female protagonists, all the way from Alice Munro to Renata Adler to Lydia Davis, Willa Cather to Sue Kaufman to Elena Ferrante, younger writers like Téa Obreht, Jennifer Dubois, and of course the incredible Pakistani writer Bapsi Sidhwa (although I deliberately avoided reading The Pakistani Bride) until after I had written several drafts of my own novel, because I did not want to get any “ideas” from that book subconsciously seeping into my story. A lot of movies and shows were watched, a lot of friends consulted. Parts of the story were workshopped, and important feedback received. All that helped immensely, and at some point, I just got over this fear of “a man writing from a female perspective,” and realized I could do it, because I had done it.


What do you hope readers take away from reading your book?



A, that my book explores life as it often is: messy, and gray (as opposed to black and white), and B, that meaning can still be found of that messiness.


And finally, I think it’s especially applicable in these days of so much controversy about cultural appropriation: if a writer deeply cares about their subject, spends enough time exploring and learning what they don’t know and sets aside what they do, then yes, it is quite possible to write about the “other” (to borrow from Alex Chee’s famous essay) as it has always been.


What was your writing process like - a certain place to write, a certain time, quiet/music, etc.?



When working on this book, I wrote almost entirely during the day while at the university, in blocks of time set aside between teaching and attending my own seminars and workshops, preparing lessons and grading papers and completing assignments. At the university there was a MFA lounge with a gorgeous view and hardly anybody else ever used it, so I pretty much took it over. Occasionally, classes would take place there, and I’d walk over to the library or the quiet-study lounge areas to write. I do like to listen to music as part of the writing process, but only when taking a break or thinking of the next section, not when actually writing. And in those days I almost never wrote at night, because I like to read then.


What was your favorite thing about writing this book?



That’s easy: it’s what I learned when exploring and researching the things that the book is about, none of which is my area of expertise. As you can imagine, writing a novel from the point of view of a Pakistani woman who is a pianist and lives in America, encounters domestic violence, runs afoul of the mosque, and ends up in a legal quagmire, took a lot of research, because I’m neither Pakistani, nor a woman, nor a pianist, nor a lawyer, nor have experience with domestic violence, nor a religious scholar. I met incredible people in the course of my research and made friends with some of them, and that has got to be another favorite outcome of this process. The entire exercise was an opportunity to learn while also exploring my own creative abilities, and on those two counts this particular book is already a resounding success in my life.


Are you working on anything else at the moment?



Yes, I am always working on a couple of new projects, working one out on paper (the screen, really) while another brews in my brain. Although this year has been unusual to say the least. The pandemic and the political and economic crisis all have a direct impact on my day job, and that keeps me very busy, but on top of that getting this book out has taken a lot of work; time that I’d normally set aside to just write has been consumed by a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into publishing a book. But that said, I have a new story written during the pandemic that’s due out in The Gravity of the Thing this year, and another one almost completed, so I am happy about that.


Suman, thanks for stopping by today and sharing this insight into your writing. I think doing research for a book would be so interesting.


For those of you who are not familiar with Suman, here is a bit of background on him.


Suman Mallick received his MFA from Portland State University where he also taught in the English and Creative Writing departments. While his homes away from home include Calcutta, India and Portland, Oregon, Mallick currently resides in Texas with his beloved daughter and dog.


The Black-Marketer’s Daughter is Mallick’s debut novel and was shortlisted for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize.


Thanks so much for stopping by today. What are your thoughts on a man writing from a woman’s viewpoint and a woman writing from a man’s viewpoint?


  1. Thank you both.
    I loved the interview with Suman Mallick and that he chose to feature such a powerful (and divisive) topic. This is certainly a book I will try and track down.

  2. This is a really interesting interview! Thanks, both. And the book sounds like a really effective blend of romance and a discussion of current issues. I wish you much success with it, and thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Mason and Suman - this sounds so interesting ... you've really researched so much for the book - setting an example for us all. Good luck - and I'd love to read it sometime ... it sounds so informative ... take care and all the best - Hilary


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.