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Reviews of A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man

A Novel

by Etaf Rum
  • BookBrowse Review:
  • Critics' Consensus:
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  • First Published:
  • Mar 5, 2019
  • Paperback:
  • Feb 2020
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About This Book

Book Summary

"Garnering justified comparisons to Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns... Etaf Rum's debut novel is a must-read about women mustering up the bravery to follow their inner voice." —Refinery 29

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Washington Post 10 Books to Read in March
A Marie Claire Best Women's Fiction of 2019
A Newsweek Best Book of the Summer
A USA Today Best Book of the Week
A Washington Book Review Difficult-To-Put-Down Novel
A Refinery 29 Best Books of the Month
A Buzzfeed News 4 Books We Couldn't Put Down Last Month
An Electric Lit 20 Best Debuts of the First Half of 2019
A The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2019

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.

Isra

BIRZEIT, PALESTINE
Spring 1990

For most of her seventeen years Isra Hadid cooked dinner with her mother daily, rolling grape leaves on warm afternoons, or stuffing spaghetti squash, or simmering pots of lentil soup when the air became crisp and the vineyards outside their home went empty. In the kitchen she and Mama would huddle against the stove as if sharing a secret, steam swirling around them, until the sunset cast a sliver of orange through the window. Looking out, the Hadids had a mountaintop view of the countryside—hillsides covered with red-tiled rooftops and olive trees, bright and thick and wild. Isra always cracked the window open because she loved the smell of figs and almonds in the morning, and at night, the rustling sounds of the cemeteries down the hill.

It was late, and the call for maghrib prayer would soon come, bringing an end to the cooking. Isra and Mama would withdraw to the bathroom, rolling up the sleeves of their house gowns, washing the dull red ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Why might a community or culture have a "code of silence"? What are the potential risks of such secrecy? In what ways is such silence harmful to Isra and other women and girls?
  2. Beyond the literal, what does it mean for a person to have a voice? Why is it important to health and safety? What are the various forces that silence Isra's voice?
  3. Why are books so important to Isra, Sarah, and Deya? What makes the reading of books so threatening to Isra's mother, Fareeda and the men in the novel?
  4. In the frustrated words of Isra's mother, "What does love have to do with marriage?" What is the purpose of arranged, loveless marriages? Why would her mother accuse Isra of being a sharmouta because she wanted to fall in love?
  5. Isra is taught from an...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While A Woman Is No Man ends on a hopeful note, overall it’s a pretty sad tale; Isra obviously suffers from worsening and untreated depression, and she is treated brutally by those around her. Still, it offers a nuanced picture of a woman’s life within a traditional Arab-American family, and as such it’s definitely worth a read. The book is highly recommended for those interested in learning more about the culture, and book groups in particular will find much fodder for discussion...continued

Full Review (630 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Buzzfeed News
Three generations of women from a conservative Arab family living in America are at the core of Etaf Rum's riveting debut novel. From the very first line, Rum brings you into the hearts and minds of these characters, and you'll stay connected to them well beyond finishing the last page.

Entertainment Weekly
A blistering exploration of three generations of Palestinian-American women, unfolding in lyrical but demanding prose.

New York Times Book Review
A dauntless exploration of the pathology of silence, an attempt to unsnarl the dark knot of history, culture, fear and trauma that can render conservative Arab-American women so visibly invisible…. The triumph of Rum's novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories…. Both a love letter to storytelling and a careful object lesson in its power.

Washington Book Review
A story of how a woman can break taboos and break free from patriarchal misogynistic families. This mesmerizing novel will take all your attention from the very beginning.

Arab American News
Explores themes of cultural expectations and taboos, family tragedy and the immigrants' story, all from the perspective of an author whose life experience bears many similarities. [Also] how women who are limited by societal norms can make their own unique contributions to society and be 'equal if not greater than men'.

Newsweek
Rum writes of the complexities inside the lives of Arab American women. She probes the dark and the daunting as she tells the story of a Brooklyn teenager navigating the wishes of a family who want her to marry.

Author Blurb Al Jidad
[A] brave debut [that] underscore[s] the economic and political challenges that contribute to the victimization of women…. Throughout this heart breaking yet inspiring novel, reading, the forbidden pleasure, offers an alternative sense of community and a safe place for dreams. In that tradition, A Woman Is No Man contributes its own gratifying and immensely healing salve.

Author Blurb Hala Alyan, author of Salt Houses
Etaf Rum's A Woman Is No Man is a shattering, revelatory tale of immigration, womanhood, and the cyclical impact of violence and oppression. In her unflinching story of both loss and hope, strewn with enthralling, vibrant characters, Rum has accomplished the extraordinary: a tale that bridges the domestic and the global, memory and future, the old world and the new. A spectacular debut.

Author Blurb Nadia Hashimi, author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and A House Without Windows
A Woman Is No Man, bold as a drumbeat, banishes the repressive silence that haunts Isra and her spirited daughter, Deya. This tender tale of women soldiering through a barbed world is a clarion call and a work of literary bravery.

Reader Reviews

Jeannie B

Thought-provoking story of Islam women
I thought the book was informative about the cultural differences of Arab women in America and in Palestine. It provided insight into their way of life and their customs. The story was well written and followed 3 generations, although sometimes it ...   Read More
Denise

Interesting on multiple levels
Culture is the invisible string that controls our behavior. This author illuminates that philosophy in the characters of this book. A Palestinian family seeking refuge in the United States settles in a New York City of like minded immigrants in a ...   Read More
Cathryn Conroy

A Hard, but Profound, Book to Read: A Story About Women Who Are Discarded, Invisible, and Abused
Reading is magical. It transports us to places we can't visit on our own and drops us smack into cultures and lifestyles we would never otherwise experience. Reading can be a little like eavesdropping—being that proverbial fly on the wall. That is ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book



Arab Americans at a Glance

Arab American members of Congress The term "Arab" designates those who share a specific cultural, linguistic and in some cases political heritage. According to the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Arab world is comprised of the 22 countries that make up the Arab League, an organization formed in 1945 to represent the interests of Arabs worldwide. The nations (Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) had a combined population of 420 million people in 2018.

The 2010 United States census estimated that there are some 1.7 million Arab Americans living in the country, although the AAI (among other sources) ...

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Read-Alikes

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