A Woman is No Man- Book Review

Hello all! Just finished reading A Woman is No Man, a debut book of author Etaf Rum and can’t wait to share my thoughts with you all!

A Woman Is No Man: A Novel by [Etaf Rum]

In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect.

“Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard ofdangerous, the ultimate shame.”

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.

Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.

But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.

No. of Pages – 363 pages

Published – March 5, 2019

Genre – Women’s Fiction/ Arab American Fiction

Etaf Rum

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and taught undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans and is also a Book of the Month Club Ambassador, showcasing
her favorite selections each month. A Woman Is No Man is her first novel.

“Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard ofdangerous, the ultimate shame.”

This is the start of the beginning of the story and a very powerful quote. The story starts with the year 1990 in Palestine, when seventeen-year-old Isra would rather read books than entertaining the suitor and his family that her father Yacob had found for her. But eventually, she gets betrothed, gets married and moves with her new husband, Adam to start a new life in Brooklyn, New York. Isra thought she would have freedom when she moved to New York, thousands of miles away from Palestine. But soon, Isra is faced pressure of producing children and when she gives birth to four daughters instead of sons, she slowly gets into depression, questioning her life and faces constant abuses from her husband Adam.

Almost ten years later, Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter who is eighteen-years-old is now sitting down with the potential suitors her grandmother Fareeda had chosen for her. But Deya doesn’t want to get married–she wants to go to college instead. Though initially she thought Fareeda was right that marriage would give comfort, she soon starts questioning about her inner life–does she really want to get married or want to go to college? Then something changes.

So I will just tell my review in point form.

  • The story is told from the perspectives of three females, spanning three generations of Palestinian Americans–Fareeda, Isra and Deya. Fareeda is Isra’s mother-in-law and Deya is Isra’s oldest daughter. We can get to read what each of them really thinks–why does Fareeda insists of having sons rather than daughters, what really happened to Isra and what Deya will choose about her future and what decision she is going to make.
  • The book is unputdownable! I couldn’t stop reading the book and got so engrossed into the book. As such I truly enjoyed reading the book!
  • The book is realistic–what type of life the women, particularly in the Arab community is facing. Shame is something these women cannot say out aloud. And even if the man beats his wife, sometimes for no reason, the wife thinks because she was at fault that he was beating her, which is NOT an excuse for the husband to beat one’s wife. You can also see how much struggles a woman face- especially when raising children, the pressure of having children, the pressure of giving sons instead of daughters, how women are controlled by their fathers and later on husbands, never really have any freedom to talk. How women are practically shunned in the community–one dishonorable act would put the woman into shame and out of the community. As I said, this is common in the Arab community but not just in the Arab community–it is common in other cultures too. But the author also did a good job of balancing that not all Arabs are as close minded as some of them in the community which gives you a relief. In the book, some women like Sarah and Deya are not afraid to stand up against their culture and ideologies but women like Isra, though want to be against the culture is not very brave enough to do so, which makes it sad.
  • This story is apparently based on the real life experiences of what the author had faced during her childhood and her marriage so makes the book more interesting to read.
  • I like how the author described how the American culture clashes with the Arab culture–in the scene with Sarah and her mother Fareeda, as Sarah has become Americanized and Fareeda wants her daughter to be more Arab. To be honest, this cultural clash doesn’t happen not only among Arabs but in other immigrant communities too. I know I lived in America for five years and there was a time when my parents were not very keen of me adopting too much towards American culture and less towards my own culture Sri Lankan.
  • Besides this realistic things, it was actually interesting to learn about the Arab culture–its’ cuisine (I like the description of how Isra prepares dinner) and some Arab words.
  • I like the sisterly bond between Isra and Sarah, how they both shared the love of reading books and I like how Sarah would sneak some books to Isra for her to read. When reading Fareeda’s part, despite Fareeda angry that Isra didn’t produce any sons, you can see the softer side of Fareeda, how she in fact likes Isra more than her other daughter-in-law, Nadine.
  • I like how Deya turns out to be more like Sarah and the growing relationship between Deya and Sarah.
  • The author has written the book in a simple way, making the reader to understand and did a good job of making the reader to be a part of the story.
  • I think I feel sorry for Isra about how the life changed drastically for her after her marriage. Technically, she was just a child when she got married.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. This book is actually emotional to read, learned more about the Arab culture and technically a book you can’t actually put down! Worth five stars!

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