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The Black-Marketer’s Daughter by Suman Mallick

Reviewed by Ghada Ibrahim

Suman Mallick introduces a powerful and compelling narration in his debut novel, The Black-Marketer’s Daughter. He ventures into the uglier sides of systems designed to uphold society but, in turn, end up eroding it instead. His writing takes on a rueful tone as it traverses borders, continents, justice systems, and the cocoon of familial life. In shedding light upon cultural traditions and customs of two vastly different countries, Pakistan, and the United States, Mallick exposes the reader to a plethora of experiences spun into 166 pages of a story that one can simply not put down.

Set in Texas, United States, the story revolves around Zuleikha, a black-marketer’s daughter, who travels to the United States to live with her husband Iskander, to whom her marriage was arranged. It is not long before the couple has a child, Wasim, whom Zuleikha observes being molded into everything Iskander wants out of a male heir. As Wasim picks up golf and tennis, Zuleikha begins to feel her role in her family’s life diminish to the sidelines. She turns her attention to her lifelong passion for playing the piano and accepts the way things are. It isn’t long before her talent blooms and she begins giving lessons to others.

As she immerses herself in all that she loves, Zuleikha stumbles upon Patrick at a birthday party of one of the children from Wasim’s daycare. And so unfolds an enchanting love affair between the pair. She falls in heady love with the strange new romantic who wines and dines her, welcoming her into his life in a manner Iskander never did. While the tumultuous affair continues, Zuleikha finds herself pregnant one fateful evening. She grapples between ending her affair and celebrating the joy of bearing a new life until Wasim announces how “Jamieson’s daddy likes to kiss Mamajaan” to a full table at a family dinner. What ensues plunges the reader into the intricacies of broken families, abusive husbands, and shelter homes that Zuleikha and Wasim nestle into.

The horrors of tormented wives and daughters emerge, and we step behind the curtains of religious manipulation and male dominance in a society entrenched in religion. The facades fall and the ugly monster that dwells behind the silken drapes of banners of Islam rears its head. Zuleikha’s life takes a turn as she experiences power dynamics and finds herself trapped between authorities determined to use her case that made national headlines for their own benefit. Shocking events and memories arise from the other ladies at the Oasis Foundation shelter. As the readers immerse themselves in the women’s experiences, the realization that Mallick’s novel holds more truth than fiction spreads in the throat, making it difficult to swallow. But, Mallick’s beguiling style of writing only pulls you in deeper.

In the romantic prose, the reader is left with plenty of quotes that cling to their memory fiercely. Aside from being an entrancing read, Mallick’s words push one to question their understanding of life and the world. He writes “everything is a truth laced with untrue motivation or a lie coated with veracious sincerity,” and one is instantly whisked into daydreams that morph and “bleed into bleary” ponderings.

“Is strangeness an anodyne or an antidote?”

What starts off as a journey swathed in “shades of molten gold” and the warm hues of a happily ever after quickly transforms into an exploration of abuse, deceit, and steadfast resilience. As the story progresses, Mallick introduces troubling themes and tactfully presents both sides to the same coin without passing any judgment of his own. Islam is discussed in the context of religion as well as a social construct entwined with domestic abuse, patriarchal dominance, and the justice system. The story’s details are woven together to create a brilliant canvas depicting society in its rawest form.

Ending on an abrupt note, The Black-Marketer’s Daughter leaves a strong impact in a final show of resilience and tenacity on Zuleikha’s part. Every page of the book flows into the next, captivating the reader. It feels like a steady blend of languid siestas on hot summer afternoons and racing heartbeats paired with bulging eyes. Mallick mesmerizes with his dreamy expressions and harsh realities intertwined in a publication that stole a piece of my heart.

Ghada Ibrahim is a Senior Psychology student, a voracious reader, and a published writer. She likes to live with no regrets and has been blogging and writing since the age of 15. Aspiring to publish her book one day, she revels in sharing her love for all things literary with the rest of the world. Her writings have been featured in Mad in Asia Pacific and Bloomer Magazine.