A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
“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 of—dangerous, 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.
Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. It 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.
March 3rd, 2019
This story follows three generations of Palestinian women who live in Brooklyn and their struggle to break the mold that generations prior have set before them. We are lucky to live in a country where it’s easy for us to advocate and vocalize opinions but it is easy to forget how many people still live in oppression.
A Woman is No Man is heartbreaking and Rum’s writing gives a voice to the many women who are still struggling to find their own. This was an eye-opening read for me and it also was a powerful reminder of how hard it can be to break the cycles that have been set in families and communities for generations.
This story challenged me and opened my eyes to how important it is to remember where someone has come from because it makes a part of who they are today. It is never too late to change but sometimes the discomfort can cause this to be a much harder road than any of us might originally anticipate. This book is a thoughtful and honest portrayal of a family and the power of self-compassion and perseverance. I know this book will stick with me for years to come.