A Woman is No Man - Book Review


Book synopsis
"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 na├»ve 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.

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.

Many feelings rumbled through me as I read (and listened to) A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – feelings of anger, helplessness, and understanding, all at once. Anger at the domestic violence these women characters endured at the hands of their husbands, helplessness because I wanted to reach into the book and stop it all from happening, and understanding because all at once I could understand how Isra felt, and, as crazy as it may sound, I could also understand how her husband, Adam, felt, with all the pressures of the world on his shoulders. 

Sadly, this isn't just a work of fiction. It's the real-life stories of many women across the globe who suffer so much because of culture. Some don’t know any better, so they remain silent and endure. Others know better, but feel they have no options, so they remain silent and endure. For the women who've taken courageous steps to speak up, act, and stand up for themselves and their daughters, I applaud you vigorously. For all the women who have gone through (and still go through) situations like these, you are brave, strong, powerful, beautiful, and you matter. 

I was touched by the book, and the ending made me feel a little nostalgic. I wanted the stories of Deya and Sarah to continue on, wanted to cheer for and with them as they navigated the world with this new-found lens and armour. I felt quite proud of Deya.

I like how the author aimed to connect her readers with each character by writing the chapters solely from their points of view. You could hear their thoughts, feel their feelings, and understand, to some degree, why they acted the way they did.

Culture is a beautiful stronghold that shapes society to be a certain way and makes us who we are and become. It brings us together and stamps us with a common identity we take pride in. But when culture dehumanizes a human because of their gender, when culture refuses to adapt to change, when it remains rigid and refuses to respect the rights of human, be them male or female, it becomes difficult to hold on to, and human rights become threatened. Culture becomes toxic, a bad dream, a sexist, a murderer, a slave master. The author brings these so clearly to the surface, and one quote that made my heart ache was this - life was nothing more than a bad joke for women

I applaud the author for the brevity she embodies - it's evident in her words, and in the fact that, because of her, this awareness-laced book is available worldwide for women like Isra, Deya and Sarah to read, women who immersed themselves in books as a means to escape the prison that was their everyday life.

3 things I learned from quotes from the book, and am taking away with me:

  • Discontent is the root/foundation of everything beautiful that was ever created. It makes you achieve more. If you're too happy and too content, you won't be driven to achieve more than you currently have.
  • Culture is beautiful, but don't let its toxicity make you lose your sense of self. You matter, no matter your gender. Women matter just as much as men do. If there were no women in this world, then there would be no men in this world. Period.
  • Stand up for what you believe in, even if it puts you at risk. Embody your truth like a robe and stand with, by, and on it.

Rating: 5 / 5
GENRE: Women's fiction/Literary fiction
MATERIAL CONNECTION: Bought for reading pleasure

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