A Woman is no Man – Etaf Rum

Spoiler Alert

Trigger warning for; domestic abuse, child marriage, rape, misogyny.

This debut novel by an Arab-American voice takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.

In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

My Thoughts:
Oh man, this book was rough.

In this book, we follow three generations of Palestinian women trying to fit into America but without forgetting their heritage, Isra, Deya and, Fareeda.

In 1990, Isra leaves Palestine to live with her new husband Adam. She is so excited and looking forward to getting some more freedom, but once she arrives she soon realises that her new life won’t be the life she was hoping for. Soon Fareeda, her mother-in-law, starts getting on at Isra to start having children and expects Isra to clean and cook while Adam is working.

In 2007, Deya loves to read and wants to go to college, but she is now 17 and Fareeda is urging her to sit with suitors. With her mother Isra dead Deya has no one to talk to, her sisters are too young to understand what she is going through and her grandmother Fareeda doesn’t want to hear about Deya’s urge to go to college.

Fareeda is a mother of 3 sons and one daughter, Sarah. Fareeda struggles to make Sarah understand her place as an Arab woman. She also struggles with Isra having 4 daughters because in her mind sons are the way forward. She also can’t understand why Deya wants to go to college and doesn’t want to get married yet.

This book describes the relationships between the women and how they are all holding something back and not talking about something, either because they feel that they can’t or because they feel that it will bring their family shame. Shame is a massive reoccurring theme in this book, the shame of women.

There is a lot of growth for all of the characters in this book, when Isra first arrives in America she is shy and eager to please, she thinks that if she does as she is told then Adam and Fareeda will love her, however, as the book goes on she starts to stand up for herself.

Deya doesn’t know how to talk to Fareeda about marriage, Fareeda just won’t listen, but when a mysterious stranger leaves a letter for Deya, her life begins to unravel and she learns how to make Fareeda listen to her.

Fareeda grew up in a refugee camp so she has learned to be tough, but she doesn’t understand why Sarah and now Deya don’t want to get married, she tells them all the time that that is the way for women, they don’t go to college, they get married and have children and that’s all Fareeda knows, but when her past comes rushing at her there is little she can do to stop the coming changes.

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