> Zed Book Club / ‘Out of Darkness’ Draws Hope from Rumana Monzur’s Story of Domestic Abuse

Photo: Keren Su/Getty Images

> Bookshelf

‘Out of Darkness’ Draws Hope from Rumana Monzur’s Story of Domestic Abuse

 Denise Chong delves into the prevalence of intimate partner violence, framed by the brutal attack that blinded the Bangladeshi Canadian lawyer / BY Kim Hughes / May 1st, 2024

It’s difficult to digest the brutality inflicted on Rumana Monzur by her husband, or to find a case that more clearly demonstrates how intimate partner violence transcends social status. But the Bangladeshi Canadian woman’s remarkable resilience and brave rebuilding of her life propels a gripping new non-fiction book by Denise Chong, the Canadian author of The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War.

Out of Darkness: Rumana Monzur’s Journey Through Betrayal, Tyranny and Abuse recounts the lead-up to the horrific day in 2011 when, in Bangladesh on a break from graduate studies at the University of British Columbia, Monzur was quietly working at home. She had recently asked her husband Hasan Syeed Sumon for a divorce.

With the couple’s tiny daughter Anusheh, 5, nearby, Sumon gouged Monzur’s eyes with his fingers, permanently blinding her, and bit off the tip of her nose. “I’m going to kill you,” she recalls Sumon saying. “I wanted to kill you with acid. Lucky for you, I couldn’t find any.”


Denise Chong


This was not the first attack that Monzur, then 33, had suffered at his hands. The abuse began on their wedding night in 2000 when Sumon – who arrived hours late for the ceremony – slapped his new bride before turning his back to her in their bed. But the viciousness of the 2011 attack unveiled the years-long abuse Monzur had tried to conceal from friends, colleagues and family out of “fear of stigma, fear of bringing shame on her family,” the Ottawa-based Chong, 70, tells Zoomer from Vancouver. 

At the time of the attack, Monzur – an assistant professor at Dhaka University, where she had studied international relations – had won a UNESCO/Keizo Obuchi two-year research fellowship for scholars under 40, and was pursuing a master’s degree, her second, in political science in Canada.  

Nothing pointed toward the victimhood of this well-educated woman. “There’s the irony,” says Chong. “Rumana is so traumatized that she can’t even see the red flags in her own situation. Trauma turns lives upside down.” Prior to the marriage, the couple seemed in love. Both families appeared to support Monzur’s academic ambitions, and her father and father-in-law were friends dating back to university. “People are befuddled and in disbelief that a woman can’t leave that relationship,” says Chong. “I’m giving them an intimate look at it.”

Rumana Monzur
L to R: Sumon, Rumana and their daughter Anusheh in Bangladesh. Photo: Courtesy of Rumana Monzur


As she writes in Out of Darkness, the assault did not draw universal public revulsion. Instead, in a smear campaign, Sumon’s family spread rumours that Monzur had an affair while studying overseas, and that Sumon had been wronged. “In a country with a poor education system, gossip prevails,” Chong says. “And social media had just taken off in Bangladesh.” 

Because Sumon’s family was politically connected, the police responded sluggishly when finally alerted. The Monzur family feared reprisals and initially demurred to file a report. That gave Sumon time to inflict collateral damage on his hospitalized wife, draining bank accounts and destroying “scholarly articles and every one of her paintings.” 


Rumana Monzur
Monzur, now a human rights activist, is thriving in Canada: Courtesy of Rumana Monzur


Bangladesh is a highly patriarchal society, despite having a long-running female prime minister, and only conducted its first survey of domestic violence the year Monzur was blinded, as Chong notes in the book’s afterword. In the survey, 87 per cent of married women reported experiencing some form of abuse from partners. “Asked if it had happened within the last twelve months, nine out of ten answered yes,” she writes. Monzur’s mother-in-law Ruby told Monzur, matter-of-factly: “After marriage, men beat their wives. Women have to tolerate a lot. Otherwise, marriages wouldn’t last.”

Despite being circumspect in the earlier days of her marriage, she finally refused to be silenced. After that ultimate act of brutality, Monzur found the courage to speak to the international press, drawing headlines across Canada and Bangladesh. She initially sought treatment for her damaged eyes in India. In September 2012, 15 months after the attack, she emigrated to Canada with Anusheh. There, she underwent additional, ultimately unsuccessful surgeries to restore her sight. But Monzur resumed her studies at UBC, switching majors and graduating from the law program in 2017. 

Rumana Monzur
Monzur  giving speech to fellow law school graduates in 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Rumana Monzur


It was a bright, new beginning for both mother and daughter. Fellow students at UBC had been supportive throughout her recovery, fundraising for her and staging rallies to raise awareness about domestic violence. A fellow student, blind from birth, helped her access the university’s assistive technology. (Accessibility in Canada far outstripped available resources in Bangladesh.)

Author and subject met in 2017 when Monzur approached Chong’s agent about telling her story. Chong was an obvious choice. She had written 1996’s The Concubine’s Children: Portrait of a Family Divided about her grandmother’s experience; and 1999’s profile of Kim Phuc, photographed as a child, fleeing the napalm attack in the infamous 1972 Associated Press photo. Out of Darkness, her fifth book, presented unique challenges to Chong, who began her career as an economist, serving as senior economic adviser to then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1980s. “He had a huge influence on me,” she says. 


Denise Chong
Chong has written biographies of ‘napalm girl’ Kim Phuc and her own grandmother, a Chinese concubine. Photo: Monique de St Croix


“When I met Rumana, she was someone in a new country, learning its laws, and about to graduate. It was so inspiring,” Chong says, adding that while researching the book, “I’d close my eyes and try to navigate around my house just to get myself in Rumana’s mindset.”

For one thing, communicating with Monzur took time. “If I sent her an email, it had to be read out loud to her. And I had to schedule trips out west.” There was also the matter of trying not to retraumatize Monzur as she recalled her story. “It was a balancing act,” Chong confirms. “And nothing is ordered when there’s trauma.” 

For another, the book took her six-plus years to complete – she was flattened three times by COVID-19, and went to Bangladesh in 2017 for on-the-ground reporting. A startling irony was the “willful blindness” of those in Monzur’s social circle “who didn’t move” on signs of abuse.

Chong ultimately views Monzur’s story as a positive one. Now 45 and based in Vancouver, she works as counsel for the federal Department of Justice. Anusheh, to whom Out of Darkness is dedicated, is 18 and about to begin studies at her mother’s alma mater, UBC. “Rumana came out of it so strongly. She reclaimed her identity, walked away from victimhood, and shed the idea that she was a survivor. She went back to the Rumana she was.”

Anusheh (now 18) and her mom. Photo: Courtesy of Rumana


And Sumon? He was arrested 11 days after the attack, and was found dead in a prison bathroom six months later, as he was awaiting trial on attempted murder charges. The official cause of death was a heart attack, but the family thought it was suspicious and the government never released the autopsy report. “Am I ever going to get to the bottom of that? No,” says Chong. “Is gossip still swirling about it? Yes.” 

Even after researching and writing the book, she still won’t hypothesize on what triggered Sumon’s violence following the courtship. “The dead can’t speak for themselves.” 



Alice Munro, One of Canada’s Literary Masters, Dies at 92Alice Munro's career spanned over four decades, during which time she earned a multitude of literary awards, including a Nobel Prize nearing the end of her writing career. 

American writer V. V. Ganeshananthan wins the US$150,000 Carol Shields Prize for FictionHer novel, 'Brotherless Night,' was chosen over the work of four finalists, including 'Birnam Wood' by Eleanor Catton

2024 Amazon Canada First Novel Award Shortlist AnnouncedThe award, which was founded in 1976, offers a $60,000 prize for the winner.

Three Canadian Authors Shortlisted for the US$150,000 Carol Shields Prize for FictionClaudia Dey, Eleanor Catton and Janika Oza are finalists for the largest cash prize celebrating American and Canadian women writers

Donald Sutherland, 88, to Detail His Journey to Hollywood Fame in Long-Awaited MemoirThe Canuck screen legend's first-ever autobiography will hit Canadian bookshelves on Nov. 12.

Camilla Leads Miniature Book Initiative to Celebrate 100th Anniversary of the Queen’s Dolls’ HouseThe miniature book collection includes handwritten tomes by Sir Tom Stoppard, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Sir Ben Okri and other well-known authors

2024 Giller Prize: Noah Richler, Kevin Chong and Molly Johnson Among Jury MembersAuthor Noah Richler is chairing the jury for this year's Giller Prize, an award's body his father literary icon Mordecai Richler helped launch in 1994.

Queen Camilla to Offer Weekly Reading Recommendations in New Queen’s Reading Room PodcastThe Queen's Reading Room Podcast will feature Her Majesty's book picks as well as literary discussions with authors and celebrities every week.

2023 Booker Prize: Irish Writer Paul Lynch Wins For Dystopian ‘Prophet Song’Canadian Booker Prize jury chair Esi Edugyan called the novel a "a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave."

Sarah Bernstein’s ‘Study for Obedience’ Wins 2023 Scotiabank Giller PrizeThe author, who gave birth to a daughter 10 days ago, accepted the award remotely from her home in the Scottish Highlands

Governor General’s Literary Awards: Anuja Varghese’s ‘Chrysalis’ Among This Year’s WinnersEach of the 14 writers, illustrators and translators will receive a prize of $25,000

Giller Prize Winner Suzette Mayr Among Finalists Shortlisted for 2023 Governor General’s Literary AwardsThe 14 winners, who will each receive a prize of $25,000, will be announced Nov. 8

Five Authors Shortlisted for This Year’s $100,000 Scotiabank Giller PrizeDionne Irving and Kevin Chong are among the finalists who "probe what it means to be human, to survive, and to be who we are"

Norway’s Jon Fosse Wins Nobel Literature Prize for Giving “Voice to the Unsayable”The author's work has been translated into more than 40 languages, and there have been more than 1,000 different productions of his plays.

Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist Recognizes 12 Authors Who Demonstrate “the Power of Human Imagination”The 2023 longlist includes the prize's 2005 winner David Bergen and debut novelist Deborah Willis. 

Duke and Duchess of Sussex Buy Film Rights to Canadian Author Carley Fortune’s ‘Meet Me at the Lake’Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have purchased the movie rights to the bestselling romantic novel, which was published in May this year.

Booker Prize Longlist ‘Defined by its Freshness’ as Nominees RevealedEsi Edugyan, chair of the 2023 judges, said each of the 13 novels "cast new light on what it means to exist in our time."

Barack Obama Releases His 2023 Summer Reading ListThe list includes the latest novel by Canadian-born New Zealand author Eleanor Catton.

David Suzuki Takes Inspiration From His Own Grandchildren for New Kid’s Book ‘Bompa’s Insect Expedition’The book features Suzuki and two of his grandchildren exploring the insect population in their own backyard.

Milan Kundera, Author of ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, Dies at 94Kundera won global accolades for the way he depicted themes and characters that floated between the mundane reality of everyday life and the lofty world of ideas.

Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dark Genius of American Literature, Dead at 89McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 novel 'The Road.'

Remembering the Life and Loves of Literary Bad Boy Martin AmisThe legendary British author has died at 73. His absence will be keenly felt, but Amis leaves behind a book shelf’s worth of novels, including 'London Fields', 'Money' and 'Success', filled with shambolic anti-heroes raising a finger at society. 

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau to Publish Two Books Related to Mental Health and Wellness With Penguin Random House CanadaThe upcoming releases include a wellness book for adults and a picture book for children, which will roll out over the next two years.

Queen Camilla Celebrated Her Love of Books by Having Some Embroidered on Her Coronation GownThe Queen's coronation gown also featured tributes to her children, grandchildren and rescue dogs embroidered into it.

Better Late Than Never: Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Unpublished Novel Set for Release in 2024'En Agosto Nos Vemos' or 'We'll See Each Other in August' was deemed by the late author's family to be too important to stay hidden

End of an Era: Eleanor Wachtel leaves CBC Radio’s ‘Writers & Company’ After More Than Three Decades on the AirAfter a career interviewing what she describes as the "finest minds in the world," the long-time radio host says she's ready to begin a new chapter.

Canadian Independent Bookstore Day Features Deals, Contests and ReadingsOn Saturday, every book purchased at an indie store qualifies you to enter the Book Lovers Contest, with a chance to win gift cards worth up to $1,000

Translation Project Will Bring Literature From the South Asian Continent to English-Speaking AudiencesThe SALT project aims to translate and publish 40 works by authors from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

The Book Thief: An Italian Man’s Guilty Plea Ends a Caper That Puzzled the Literary World for YearsFilippo Bernardini’s elaborate phishing scam netted 1,000 unpublished manuscripts by prominent authors including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan

The Late Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison Is Honoured with an American StampThe Obamas and Oprah Winfrey pay tribute to the writer whose poetic interpretations of the African American experience gained a world-wide audience

Five Canadian Writers Make the Long List for the Inaugural Carol Shields Prize for FictionThe US$150,000 English-language literary award for female and nonbinary writers redresses the inequality of women in the publishing world

The Furry Green Grump is Back in a Sequel to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”Dr. Seuss Enterprises will publish “How the Grinch Lost Christmas!” in September

Chris Hadfield to Publish a Sequel to His Blockbuster Debut, “The Apollo Murders,” on Oct. 10"The Defector” brings the Cold War intrigue from space to Earth as the Soviets and Americans race to develop fighter jets

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.

Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan

Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world

Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."

Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."

Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.

Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.

Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.

Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.

Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.

New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.

French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."

Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.

Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'

Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.

Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.

Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.

Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.

Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.

Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”

Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956

Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."

The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter