Wednesday, January 27, 2021

REVIEW: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum



A Woman is No Man is one of those novels that will stick with me for months and probably years. It touches on something I'm wholly unfamiliar with--life as a Palestinian/Palestinian American woman. It shares the rich culture and an aspect of submission and oppression that I really didn't think existed, anymore, to the extent it was explored in this novel. It's heartbreaking and yet it leaves you with a sense of hope.

The novelist has repeatedly stated her hesitancy in publishing a novel that may hinder the plight of others, be harmful in any way, or may perpetuate stereotypes but she also felt an obligation to share a novel that many (?)/some (?) have and do experience; I'm so glad she did--she's right that voices like hers need to be readily available for us all to read and listen to.

I found it to be a novel that latched onto my heart and I know it may never leave.


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.

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