Friday, August 7, 2020



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.

Book Details:

Author: Suman Mallick

Genre: literary fiction

Publisher: Atmosphere Press (October 13, 2020)

Print length: 166 pages


A few of your favorite things: my daughter, dog, family and friends. My books and cameras.
Things you need to throw out: old clothes. I have some that are frayed and over 20 years old, but I hate shopping and hence they remain in my closet (a friend’s wife gave me a new shirt for Christmas last year because apparently my clothes are a joke between her and her husband—enough said!).

Things you need in order to write: coffee if in the morning. Space to pace. Music when taking a break.
Things that hamper your writing: things that have happened in the last 30 minutes while I’m trying to work on this: my daughter asking me where she can find a box of tissue, if I want to try her jasmine tea, if she can borrow my coaster. I have limited time to write (a few blocks set aside each week) and used to be almost militant about protecting them. But over the years I’ve learned to accept that I’m not a full-time writer and will not be one until I retire (and probably not even then), and therefore distractions will be just a part of life. The trick is to embrace them and get over them instead of letting them rile me up, ruin my day, and kill the creative process.

Things you love about writing: I love playing with language, the sense of accomplishment that comes from making progress on a piece (despite the distractions) and completing it, the idea of having created something meaningful (to me at least) that cannot be taken away even if it’s never published.
Things you hate about writing: I am yet to find it.

Easiest thing about being a writer: absolutely nothing; if it was, I’d have probably lost interest in it a long time ago. As Thomas Mann said, a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people, and I’m not one to argue with that guy.

Hardest thing about being a writer: rejection emails, or worse—no replies, from a submission I had such high hopes for when submitting it. I’m sure all of us have experienced this. I think of it as learning how to die a little in a hundred days, and hope to practice it often enough so that when I come down with a deadly disease (hopefully at the end of a long, otherwise healthy life), I’ll not freak out and cause unnecessary drama, and instead deal with the process of actually dying as a rejection note from life.   

Things you love about where you live: proximity to my close friends and some family—it’s the only reason I came back after leaving for five years. But I do also appreciate the thriving multicultural scene here, starting with the DSO, and my work.
Things that make you want to move: the 100-degree days in between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Favorite foods: I love all cuisines but have been a practicing vegan for three years now with an occasional exception for seafood, so I’d say sushi.
Things that make you want to throw up: nothing unless it’s gone bad.

Favorite song: too many to count, but here’s one that cuts to the bone every time I listen to it, (which is often): Miles Davis’s take on Rodrigo’s "Concierto de Aranjuez" in the album Sketches of Spain.
Music that make your ears bleed: I’ve never gotten country music.

Favorite beverage: I’d like to answer this in 3rd person, if I may: he likes any drink that has his key and a drop of water in it.

Something that gives you a pickle face: almost anything too sweet.

Favorite smell: old Speyside scotch, fresh rain, a subtle perfume, saffron, jasmine, and believe it or not—fish, almost any fish that’s not rotten.

Something that makes you hold your nose: strong cologne or perfume and smell of cigarette smoke never fails to give me a headache, greasy food.

Something you’re really good at: too many to note, but I was raised to not brag about myself.

Something you’re really bad at: also too many, but shopping would be #1 on the list.

Something you wish you could do: play the piano like Glenn Gould or the flugelhorn like Miles Davis or the guitar like David Gilmour.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: swing a golf club.

People you consider as heroes: there are quite a few, but how about my daughter, who can write prize-winning poems like this, and somehow on her own has managed to be the exact replica of the person that her mom would tell me she was as a child, despite losing that mom at two? It’s enough to make me believe in the existence of miracles.

People with a big L on their foreheads: Nah! Let’s not ruin this perfectly fun interview by answering this one.

Things to say to an author: who do you read?

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: done any living lately?

Favorite places you’ve been: too many to count. The silent stillness and vast majesty of the Yukon Territories (where my daughter was conceived) and the Grand Canyon probably win over all else, with the Na Pali Coast Trail (Kalalau) being a close third.

Places you never want to go to again: Hong Kong, because I fear it’ll never again be what it was in the last century.

People you’d like to invite to dinner: sticking to only my dream living guests—from the writing world: John Maxwell Coetzee, Alice Munro, Karl Ove Knausgård, Jhumpa Lahiri, Tim Parks, Haruki Murakami, George Saunders; from the music world: Arvo Pärt, Roger Waters, Killer Mike, Gustavo Dudamel, Khatia Buniatishvili; from the acting world: Roberto Benigni, Tabu, Halle Berry, Laura Linney, Ricky Gervais; from the world at large: Barack Obama, Pankaj Mishra, Ray Dalio (despite the risk that this name will get me cancelled in some quarters), and the historian William Dalrymple. I just have a lot of questions for all these people, that’s all :) Lastly, my best friends would have to be at this party as well.

People you’d cancel dinner on: nobody. I’d put up with the most odious and vile character for a meal to see if I can find their humanity and learn something about their code of living.

Favorite things to do: spending time with my daughter, dog, friends, family, on two wheels, behind a lens, at the theater or symphony, on or near water, being out in the rain.

Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: shopping.

Things that make you happy: rain, cooking with my daughter.

Things that drive you crazy: IT problems (which always leads me to re-watch an episode of The IT Crowd), going to a mall, traffic.

Biggest lie you’ve ever told: I try not to lie, but I once told someone that I no longer loved her, when the truth was that I still did, but just could not live with her and was afraid that I’d stop loving her if we kept at it. The falsity of it has stayed with me after all these years.

A lie you wish you’d told: none since. I’d rather speak my truth even if it means losing someone forever, as I’d be comfortable knowing, were it to happen, that we are better off without each other. (It’s what Stephen Covey would call a “win-win or no deal” situation).

Best thing you’ve ever done: decided, at fifteen, to make it on my own or die trying, which inspired me to get into a great boarding school on full scholarship at sixteen, which, in turn, gave me the confidence to decide, at eighteen, to go to a backup university choice on a full-ride instead of a top one that would require me to take money from family. I’ve been able to live more or less on my own terms ever since, and deal with whatever has come my way.

Biggest mistake: too many to list, but my mistakes are the result of taking chances with my own life, and they’ve only ever really hurt me. I haven’t made one that required a serious apology or making reparations to someone else, and I hope to keep it that way.

Most daring thing you’ve ever done: hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in one day in the 120-degree, trapping heat of July with two of my best friends (and very nearly dying from it)
Something you chickened out from doing: I don’t chicken out, and am not just saying that (unless you call backing out of an invitation to dinner in an enclosed space in the middle of a pandemic “chickening out.”) Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll agree.

The last thing you did for the first time: try to skateboard on my niece’s Ripster Caster Board on my surgically repaired ankle.

Something you’ll never do again: try skateboarding, or try another special brownie.


Suman Mallick's debut novel The Black-Marketer's Daughter was shortlisted for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize, and praised by the jury as a "complicated and compelling story" of our times. It is scheduled to be released October 13, 2020 by Atmosphere Press.​
He makes his home in Texas with his beloved daughter and dog. His homes away from home are Calcutta, India, and Portland, Oregon.

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