First Advisor

A. B. Paulson

Date of Publication

Spring 7-8-2016

Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Creative Writing






Muslim women -- Social conditions -- Fiction, Arranged marriage -- Fiction, Family violence -- Fiction, Adultery -- Fiction



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 142 pages)


ZULEIKHA, who was trained as a pianist in her hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, arrives in Irving, Texas after her arranged marriage to ISKANDER, but finds it difficult to get accustomed to the appurtenances, encumbrances, and perquisites of the middle-class housewife lifestyle. Despite giving birth to a son, WASIM, she quickly falls out of love with her dutiful but straight-laced husband. She begins giving private lessons, and commences an affair with PATRICK, a transplanted Canadian who is trapped in his own loveless marriage. When she gets pregnant, Zuleikha is convinced the child belongs to her husband. She ends her affair with Patrick, but Iskander finds out about it anyway. The ensuing confrontation between Zuleikha and Iskander turns into a physical altercation, during which Zuleikha, having fallen to the floor, is unable to see if Iskander stomps on her belly, or falls on her by accident as he will later claim. The trauma results in a miscarriage.

The unusual set of circumstances surrounding this violent episode serves as the backdrop for the rest of the story, by catapulting this otherwise nondescript couple into the glare of the public eye. Iskander is arrested and charged with feticide, and he faces a long prison sentence under Texas law. A court order prohibits him from contacting Zuleikha and Wasim, who are taken to a shelter for Muslim women and children. There, the other domestic abuse victims view Zuleikha as someone who "had it coming" because of her infidelity, and are therefore openly hostile to her. The shelter's director, a woman named REZA, is beholden to wealthy Muslim donors, and therefore arranges for Zuleikha to meet with members of a highly controversial Islamic tribunal. Zuleikha is pressured to forgive her husband and testify in his favor, so as not draw further negative attention to the Muslim community. JANE, the District Attorney, on the other hand, initially plays nice with Zuleikha and informs her that she will devote any and all available resources in the prosecution of Iskander. When Zuleikha can't get her story straight and hesitates about testifying against her husband, however, Jane, too, turns against her. Zuleikha discovers that the DA has been caught hiding her own secrets and now faces a public confidence crisis of her own. Zuleikha comes to realize that Jane's reasons for being so gung-ho about winning Iskander's conviction have as much to do with re-endearing herself to her electorate as with justice.

Zuleikha thus finds herself at the epicenter of a political firestorm fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria, with different people trying to use her situation to their own advantage. When Wasim gets in a scuffle at the shelter and has to be taken to a clinic, she panics and contacts Iskander against her better judgment. Husband and wife finally confront each other while Wasim is being treated. Iskander claims to still love Zuleikha and begs her to take him back so that they and their son can resume their prior family life. But Zuleikha realizes that even if Iskander is sincere and not merely seeking reconciliation in order to avoid a harsh prison sentence, she will never be able to forgive him, let alone love him and live with him again. She comes to accept the fact that she has no control over Iskander's fate in court, and can only move forward by testifying truthfully and trying to do what is best for her and her son. While waiting for the trial to begin, she gains admission in a summer training program for piano instructors and begins the next phase of her life.


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