Book review by Dinh
I always look forward to reading a book about different traditions and cultures. Etaf Rum’s debut novel A Woman Is No Man hits that mark with a story about three generations of Palestinian- American women.
There’s been a lot of praises for this book so I was eager to see if they were correct.
Was it worthy of all the praises? Most definitely yes! You know it’s a really good book when it gives you all the feels. Emotionally I bounce between sad and mad. Regardless, my heart was squeezed throughout this book. It was a gut wrenching book!
Here’s what I loved about A Woman Is No Man:
Firstly, what I love about the story is that it delves into the cultural traditions of Palestinian Arabs.
The book is an immigration story that looks at the lives of the three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn, NY. There’s Fareeda the grandmother, Isra the daughter-in-law and Deya the granddaughter.
Fareeda and Isra’s Mama say the same thing about where a woman’s place is – in the home. “Marriage, motherhood- that is a woman’s only worth.” says Isra’s Mama. Isra doesn’t agree with this though. She wants more than that.
Secondly, I enjoyed the how the story unfolded with each character.
Fareeda is oppressive and we get to see how events have shaped her to be like that.
Isra is shy and naive and just wants to be worthy and loved but how does she reconcile what she has taught, that her worth is only marriage and motherhood?
Deya just wants to go to college and learn but her cultural traditions prioritizes marriage and motherhood. How does she break away from a path that has already been chosen for her?
I love that Rum does a great job in keeping it honest and real. Isra’s depressive life is shown perfectly with her daily grind of making food, doing chores and trying to please everyone.
Although the book is dark and depressive with lots of serious themes, it’s a compelling read. The author does a great job in transitioning between the characters, and the now and before.
Rum exceled in bringing out the reader’s emotions. The topic matter of domestic abuse was a hard pill for me to swallow. It made me mad that Isra just took it and accepted her husband’s beating. I was fuming that no one stepped in to intervene (I didn’t expect it) and was angry that Fareeda just looked the other way. She even helped Isra cover up her bruises!
The only negative part of the book was the ending. I took half a star off because it was a bit confusing.
I thought the characters were developed very well. We get to understand Isra’s perspective and Deya’s view and how their traditions can stifle a girl surrounded by a culture of freedom.
I empathize the most with Isra. She was living in Palestine and then was married off to Palestinian-American Adam who brought her to Brooklyn, NY. At seventeen she knew little of the world and what she knew came from books. She married out of duty because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her and that was expected of her – marriage and motherhood.
Isra had dreamed of falling in love and hope that Adam would love her. She had thought that if she pleased and try to understand him that he would earn his love. What she got was the opposite; a husband who was rarely home and when he was, he beat her.
I felt so sorry for Isra and her situation. She was like a caged bird. She was depressed and sit by the window and would stare out. She tried to make the most out of her situation for the sake of the four girls she had but being depressed made her life even more miserable.
What a dreadful reality for Isra. Trapped in a loveless marriage, in a foreign land with no support and no way out.
Deya is Isra’s daughter and Fareeda’s granddaughter. I loved that we see her character develop as she finds the truth about her parents and how they died.
Deya has no interest in getting married at eighteen years old and wants to go to college instead. I like that she found her ‘voice’ and spoke up and advocated for what she wanted. Although she had a strict upbringing she was able to find the strength to break from what was expected of her.
Fareeda appears in the book as oppressive. She wants to preserve their culture and does not want to bring shame to the family. She’s very focus on what the community will think.
I didn’t like Fareeda and saw her as a mean old lady. I can understand that she wants to preserve their culture, however it’s not acceptable for to see domestic abuse and not do anything about it! Especially when it’s your son that’s committing the violence!
I did soften up to Fareeda once I found out her back story. She had to toughen up to survive…but still…
To be truthfully I was confused with the ending.
We already knew that Isra and Adam died before the ending, but then there’s a whole part that says she left Adam after he beat her up senseless right at the last page!
Isra was afraid for her girls especially when he wanted to take them out of public school. It was the last straw for her, she had decided to leave. I am not sure about the time line and connecting the dots was not made easy.
I did look to see other reader’s interpretation on Goodreads and it made more sense after I read some responses.
The author purposely ended with Isra going on the train with the kids to symbolize hope, according to an interview Rum did. Isra did want to leave and protect her kids.
My Final Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum.
This book worked my emotions and had me turning the pages.
It’s a great book that lets the reader glimpse into some the lives of the Palestinian women.
I highly recommend this book !
Belong to a book club? Check out A Woman Is No Man book club discussion questions!