THE BLACK-MARKETER’S DAUGHTER
Category: Contemporary / Literary Fiction / Multicultural
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Date of Publication: October 13, 2020
Number of Pages: 166 pages
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.
Is there any person(s) you credit for being your inspiration for reading and/or writing?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several incredibly inspiring mentors light my life on fire, but one that particularly stands out in the context of writing is Ms. Alo, my Class 6-10 English teacher. Alo means light in Bengali and she was just that for me: a singularly brilliant, tough woman (and grader) who would scribble on the margins of writing assignments little gems like “Why be just sad when you can be morose or melancholy?” If you’re trying to visualize this incredible powerhouse of a person, imagine the bantam hen frame of Buddy’s cousin from Capote’s Christmas Memory. In the painful days of puberty after I lost my father, she loaned me fabulous books to read, drilled into my head how offensive it was to read only books that were inoffensive (a lesson I try hard to teach my daughter), encouraged me to keep a journal and write whatever I wanted to write, and always made time after school to read my work and talk to me about it. She was melancholy when I chose to major in Math and Physics in college and only kept English as a minor, and always teasingly asked me whenever I visited from abroad when she’d receive my first book in the mail. Unfortunately, life got in the way of me publishing it before she died, and that will forever remain one of my biggest regrets.
How has your formal education influenced or impacted your writing?
Tremendously. I am a mathematician at heart and think of almost everything in mathematical terms (it’s a little hard to explain, but patterns emerge to me in conversations, in relationships, at work, in pretty much everything, that helps me absorb, process, and make decisions about situations quickly and forcefully. When it comes to my writing, that same trait helps me plan a story around the imagery, themes, and plot points that are to be used to be built it.
I am also the only person I know who has formal education in science (a degree in Math and Physics,) business (a MBA), and art (a MFA). I feel that my well-rounded education keeps me grounded in reality while also allowing me to ardently explore my creative abilities. It lets me make a living and provide for my daughter doing something really challenging and enjoyable, while at the same time pursue my writing and my photography, as well as other passions such as adventures and traveling, without the pressures that a lot of artists face and struggle with.
How do you create your characters?
Hmm, I have always been happy to let a character grow organically inside me until they are compelling enough to leave me with no other choice but to introduce them to a Word document; now faced with this question, however, I’m reminded of what the wonderful children’s writer Phyllis Reynolds Naylor once said: “We all have our own battles to fight, and sometimes we have to go it alone. I’m stronger than you think, you’d surprised.” I take that statement to heart, and would go so far as to say that Naylor’s is a perfect description of one of three or four essential character traits that, when found in a real person, propels me to make lifelong friends with them or fall in love with them, or if imagined, pushes me to write about them as protagonists and other key characters in my fiction. As for the other characters in my work, it is important to build them in one’s mind just as vividly and completely, while remembering to use them for—by borrowing photographic terms—light and color, contrast and exposure, frame and speed.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Most of my story ideas fester in me for a long time. (I’ve only once written a story that built itself in my head in the course of one day, almost instantaneously after I read some articles about a person of interest to me from a work perspective, leading me to write that piece out the same evening). Usually it takes a while to get to know a compelling enough character like I mentioned earlier, see them and imagine them acting and reacting in complicated situations, and having conversations with them in my head (my leads are like me—expert scholars of their own predicaments, as David Remnick might say.) I meet a lot of really interesting and intelligent people in my day job and observe some of them doing incredibly positive, smart things to build their businesses and awful, foolish things in their private lives, or vice versa; that, and the coexistence of generosity and selfishness always gives me food for thought. I read voraciously and indiscriminately; that obviously helps.
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
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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