Zuleikha had an aptitude for the piano during her childhood in Lahore, but her black-marketer father could only afford an electronic Casio keyboard. Years later, her dream of owning her own proper piano comes about upon leaving Pakistan for an arranged marriage to Iskander, a US citizen and resident of Irving, Texas. So begins Suman Mallick’s new novel, The Black-Marketer’s Daughter.
At first Zuleikha finds Iskander progressive: he supports her interest in the piano and encourages her to give piano lessons. It’s not that they need the money, but Iskander feels that teaching would give Zuleikha a social outlet and a way to use her piano education. Their marriage is a happy one and Zuleikha learns to enjoy American customs like the State Fair.
Strolling with her husband, she feels extravagant and impulsive, her mood like an accessory. Eyes linger upon her face, her dress, her body. The sense of being stared at fills her with excitement. She wipes powdered sugar from Belgian waffles off her husband’s chin and wants to ride the giant Ferris wheel.
Zuleikha and Iskander have a son they name Wasim. It’s through Wasim’s daycare that Zuleikha gains a student, the father of one of Wasim’s classmates. Patrick seems like the kind of western man Zuleikha learned of in the bootleg American movies her father sold in Lahore. Compared to Iskander, Patrick is romantic as he wines and dines her. One thing leads to another and soon Zuleikha and Patrick begin an affair.
After Iskander finds out, he almost kills Zuleikha.
Suman Mallick was inspired to write a short story after Pakistani teenage activist Malala was shot. His story told of a young woman who had stood up as a girl and had emigrated to the west, a story that was extended into The Black-Marketer’s Daughter. Violence against women, and the inconsistent views about it, even among the victimized, is a theme that runs through the book. Mallick’s immigrants often find themselves juggling traditions from their mother countries after they settle into new lives. Reza, the manager of the domestic violence shelter where Zuleikha and Wasim end up, takes Zuleikha to the local mosque to look into going before a tribunal of imams. Mediation through the tribunal would be a lot less costly and lengthy than going to court in the American legal system. But it’s soon apparent that the tribunal doesn’t view domestic violence as seriously as the shelter; the imams suggest Zuleikha return to Iskander. Mallick is at pains to show the hypocrisy in the different standards to which Muslims have been held than other religious groups. In the story, the imam explains to Zuleikha why the greater public has a problem with their tribunal.
But as soon as word gets out that we Muslims are doing what the Jews have been doing in their beth dins forever, how the Catholics do their marriage annulments in their diocesan tribunals, there’s a Texas Congressman introducing a bill against foreign laws taking over the land. But now there’s talk this … this stealth jihad on the American court system. The Jews have their path to walk upon—their Halakhah; no one cares. We have our path to water, except we call it Shariah, and everybody is up in arms.
Mallick tackles many issues in his book: feminism, immigration, assimilation. Yet the take-away seems to be that whatever the merits of multiculturalism and the tolerance it requires, it nevertheless carries within it these sorts of contradictions. The Black-Marketer’s Daughter is his debut novel and was a finalist for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize, a testament to his talent as a storyteller.