A Woman Is No Manby Etaf Rum Published 05 Mar 2019
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New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Barnes and Nobles Discover Pick
Washington Post Pick
Book of the Month Club Pick
Indie Next Pick
Named a 2019 Most Anticipated Book from The Millions, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, USA Today, Refinery 29 and more.
Introducing a brave, new Arab-American voice, an unflinching debut novel that takes us inside a world where few of us have been before: 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 fragile community.
Set in an America that may feel removed yet is all too close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is both a gripping page-turner and an intimate family portrait. Fans of The Kite Runner and Everything I Never Told You will be drawn to this powerful novel.
"A Woman Is No Man" Reviews
I'd like to thank everyone who's taken the time to read. Regardless of whether you loved the book or hated it, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here.
I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later, when I’d opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me.Deya Ra’Ad, a Brooklyn teenager, had been raised by people who guarded old-world beliefs and customs. It was expected of her that she would agree to marry one of the Muslim suitors who passed her family’s muster, and begin producing babies as soon as possible, and as for having a separate career, a separate identity, well, not so much. It could have been worse. She could have had her mother’s life.
This is a tale of three generations of women told primarily in two time periods. Isra Hadid, was born and raised in Palestine. We follow her story from 1990 when she was 17. She dreamed of finding someone to share her life with, someone to love.
Isra cleared her throat. “But Mama, what about love?”Isra looooooved reading A Thousand and One Nights, a book that holds special meaning for her. The book would come to her aid in years to come.
Mama glared at her through the steam “What about it?”
“I’ve always wanted to fall in love.”
“Fall in love? What are you saying? Did I raise a sharmouta?” [slut]
“No…no…” Isra hesitated. “But what if the suitor and I don’t love each other?”
“Love each other? What does love have to do with marriage? You think your father and I love each other?”
Isra’s eyes shifted to the ground. “I thought you must, a little.”
Mama sighed. “Soon you’ll learn that there’s no room for love in a woman’s life. There’s only one thing you’ll need, and that’s patience.”
Isra was married off as a teen and moved with her new husband, Adam, from her home in Palestine to Brooklyn. No land of milk and honey for her. She was barely allowed out of the family’s house. Had no friends. Did not speak the language. Husband worked mad hours for his father. Mother-in-law was more of a prison warden than a support. Isra was expected to produce babies, preferably boys. And pregnancy happened, soon, and frequently. But sorry, girls only, which was considered a source of shame. So was allowing her face to be seen by anyone after her disappointed, worked-nearly-to-death, increasingly alcoholic husband beat the crap out of her for no good reason. The shame was on her, for she must have done something to have earned the assault, the shame of a culture in which dirty laundry was washed clean of indicating marks, and only the victim was hung out to dry.
Keeping up with the Khans was of paramount importance, in reputation, if not necessarily in material wealth, in perceived propriety, and, of course, in the production of male heirs. Isra struggles with feeling affection for her daughters as each new daughter becomes a reason for her husband to hate her even more. As if post-partum depression were not enough of a challenge to cope with, post-partum shaming and assault is added to the mix. Already a quiet young woman, Isra becomes even more withdrawn as she is subjected to relentless criticism, denigration, soul-crushing loneliness, and even physical abuse. She is largely left to her own devices, is hampered even by a hostile mother-in-law, and finds no support system in other Islamic women in Brooklyn. Of course, being kept on a cultural-religious leash which was basically strapped to the household kitchen and nursery made it all but impossible for her to even have a chance to make social connections. Have a nice day.
Etaf Rum - from her site
We follow Deya Ra’Ad from 2008 when she is eighteen, and under pressure from her grandparents to choose a husband. Her journey is two-pronged. We accompany her as she does battle with her family, wanting to have her own choices. They may come from a Palestinian background, but Deya was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, USA, New World, and is not ok with feeling forced into a set of rules that not only is alien to this place, but which she finds personally indefensible. We also tag along as she tries to peel back carefully guarded family secrets. She and her siblings have been raised by her father’s parents since she was eight, her parents having been killed in an auto accident, an event that has always been clouded in mystery. She does not remember any warmth between her parents, even remembers some of the abuse her mother had endured. We want to learn more about the circumstances of Isra and Adam’s passing, and so does Deya.
Finally, Fareeda Ra’Ad, Adam’s mother, Isra’s mother-in-law, Deya’s grandmother, comes in for a look. Not nearly so much as Deya and Isra, but enough to get a sense of what her life was like, and how her experiences helped shape the person she became. She is pretty much a gorgon to Isra, but we get to see a bit of how she became so awful, getting some sense of why she clings so doggedly to beliefs and customs that are hardly in her own interest.
One day a mysterious woman leaves a message for Deya on the steps of her grandparents’ house, which raises even more questions. Might her mother still be alive? Pursuing this lead, she begins to get answers to many of her questions. But even with new knowledge, Deya is still faced with difficult choices, and still has to cope with some difficult people.
The stories of Deya and Isra in particular are compelling. We can probably relate more to Deya who is straddling two worlds with a firmer foot in the new than her mother ever had, being able to act on the questions and concerns she shared with her mother. But Isra’s story is gripping as well. We keep hoping for her to find a way to make things better, boost our hopes for her when chance opportunities present for her to alleviate her suffering, her isolation.
One element that permeates the novel is the notion of reading, or books, as sources not only of learning but of comfort, company, hopefulness, and inspiration. Isra’s love for Arabian Nights is palpable, and an affection she passed on to her daughter. It is an interest that is revived in Brooklyn when a relation notices Isra’s affection for reading and begins providing her with books. Isra carves out precious personal time in which to read, a necessary salve in a wounded life.
“A Thousand and One Nights?” Sarah paused to think. “Isn’t that the story of a king who vows to marry and kill a different woman every night because his wife cheats on him.”Isra, Daya, and Fareeda’s stories are the means by which Etaf Rum fills us in on a largely overlooked aspect of contemporary life. There are Palestinian, immigrant and American-born, women who have been and who continue to be subjected to outrageous treatment by their communities, by their families, by their spouses, solely because of their gender. She points out the culture of self-blaming and social shaming that aids and abets the brutalization, and virtual enslavement of many such women. I do not know if Rum intended her book to reflect on the wider Arabic culture, or on practices in Islamic cultures in diverse nations, so will presume, for the moment, that her focus is intended specifically for Palestinian women.
“Yes!” Isra said, excited that Sarah had read it. “Then he’s tricked by Scheherazade, who tells him a new story for a thousand and one nights until he eventually spares her life. I must have read it a million times.”
“Really?” Sara said. “It isn’t that good.”
“But it is. I love the storytelling, the way so many tales unfold at once, the idea of a woman telling stories for her life. It’s beautiful.”
Sarah shrugged. “I’m not a big fan of make-believe stories.”
Isra’s eyes sprung wide. “It’s not make-believe!”
“It’s about genies and viziers, which don’t exist. I prefer stories about real life.”
“But it is about real life,” Isra said. ”It’s about the strength and resilience of women. No one asks Scheherazade to marry the king. She volunteers on behalf of all women to save the daughters of Muslims everywhere. For a thousand and one nights, Scherehazade’s stories were resistance. Her voice was a weapon—a reminder of the extraordinary power of stories, and even more, the strength of a single woman.”
A Woman is Not a Man is not just a riveting story of the trials of immigration, but a powerful look at the continuation of a culture of socio-economic sexual dimorphism that treats males as rightful beings and females as second-class citizens at best, breeding-stock or slaves at worst. The book put me in mind of several other notable works. Exit West is another recent novel that looks at the stark differences in Middle Eastern versus Western cultures through the experiences of an immigrant couple. A Thousand Splendid Suns shows the oppression of women in Afghanistan under an extremist religious regime. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows considers East-West strains in a London Punjabi community. 2018’s Educated shows a more domestic form of oppression of women, foisted by an extreme form of Mormonism. What Rum has provided with A Woman is No Man is a look at a particular set of women who have been suffering for centuries without the benefit of much public awareness.
“Silence is the only option for Palestinian women suffering domestic violence, even here in America, and I hope to give voice to these women in my…novel.” - Etaf RumOne thing that I particularly appreciated was that Rum put the men’s brutality into some context, not treating it as some immutable male characteristic, or excusing it, but pointing out that it had an origin in the wider world, and showing how women could come to accept the unacceptable.
The wounds of her childhood—poverty, hunger, abuse—had taught her. That the traumas of the world were inseparably connected. She was not surprised when her father came home and beat them mercilessly, the tragedy of the Nakba [The 1948 Palestinian diaspora] bulging in his veins... She knew that the suffering of women started in the suffering of men, that the bondages of one became the bondages of the other. Would the men in her life have battered her had they not been battered themselves?Still, might have been a decent thing for them to have exercised a bit of self-control, maybe take their rage out by shooting at bottles or something.
It did her no good for Isra to leave Palestine only to be caged up in Bay Ridge. With our national proclamation of secular authority and religious tolerance, and even with the anti-Islamic sentiment that set in after 9/11, the USA should still be an excellent place for Islamic people to be able to practice their faith, free of the oppression that afflicts so many Eastern nations, in which one branch of Islam outlaws the practices of other sorts. But if Islamic people who come to or are born in the USA are not allowed to participate as Americans, but only as foreigners living on American soil, where is the gain, for them or the nation?
There may not be a thousand and one tales in Etaf Rum’s impressive novel, which should be an early candidate for sundry national awards recognition, and will certainly be one of the best books of 2019, and we can expect that there will be more unfortunate women who will suffer miserably unfair lives that no Sheherezade can spare them, but one can still hope that the tales told by Etaf Rum may open at least a few eyes, touch at least a few hearts, offer some a feeling of community, or at least a sense of not being totally alone, spare at least some the dark fates depicted here, and hopefully inspire others to action. Patience can be a virtue, but in excess it can function as a powerful link in a chain keeping the present far too attached to an unacceptable past. Rum’s book is a powerful story, one that impatiently calls the world’s attention to the plight of Palestinian women, an oppressed minority within an oppressed minority, and proclaims rather than asks, “Can you hear me now?”
Review posted – December 14, 2018
Publication - March 5, 2019 (USA)
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, GR, Instagram, and FB pages
March 11, 2019 - Etaf is interviewed by her editor, Erin Wicks, on Book Studio 16
Etaf Rum was born in Brooklyn, raised in Bay Ridge by Palestinian immigrants. She is on the right with three of her sisters. One of nine, she knows about growing up in a large family. The image is from her Instagram postings. She created and runs @booksandbeans on Instagram, which has a mere 166,000 followers
Items of interest
-----November 20, 2018 - Al Jazeera – Palestinian domestic abuse victims 'have nowhere to turn' - by Tessa Fox
-----Arabian Nights - on Gutenberg
-----March 5, 2019 - Literary Hub - Even After Writing My Novel, Shame Kept Me From Sharing My Story - Rum's writes about her struggle with how much to share of her personal tale and wrestling with the fear that her portrayal might reinforce negative stereotypes
This book like a gun blast to my chest, ripped my emotions and scatter them all over the places.
This book made me sooo angry, this book made me cry, this book made me curse, hate the characters, made me feel sorry for the unfairness, inequality, ignorance !
There was not any exaggeration, there are too many women in the world suffering the rules from patriarchal culture, customs, illogical traditions made them feel vulnerable, worthless and weak. They never know how important their lives, how to define themselves and mostly how to stand up for their rights.
No matter what is culture, religion, country, race, most important thing in the life is not to loose your humanity inside. As you read the book, the leading male characters are all losing their humanity and choosing abuse as an excuse of their traditions.
This book is slap on your face and harsh wake up call to change the point of views about strength of women and their capabilities.
Four women’s story of different generations rocked my world. I loved them, I got angry of them. I felt sorry for them. But mostly I respected them!
This book is not an easy read, some parts deeply froze my blood,shocked me that I wanted to throw my kindle against the wall. But every word you read and everything that make you feel are so worth it!
That’s so far best thing I read in this year!!!!
This is a heartbreaking story of three generations of Palestinian-American women in one family..who have been oppressed by their culture. Trying to find a voice in their world dominated by men.
This was a deeply affecting novel, a fantastic debut..and I loved it!
THIS BOOK. Holy shit. To be completely honest, even as a Palestinian Muslim who has spent her entire life unapologetically refusing to abide by patriarchal norms, the concept of this book scared me. So honest and raw, but so public. Muslims & all POC know too well that you don’t air your dirty laundry. You don’t talk about all your shit in front of outsiders. Even if it comes at the expense of your community’s advancement, you deny that there are any deeply rooted problems, for fear of confirming stereotypes in all of their false simplicity and orientalism. You deny it for fear of contributing to your community’s otherness, or strengthening the claim that whiteness has in saving you and invading your lands.
But this book is brilliant in that it is not centered around whiteness. Rather, It is a painfully accurate description of the conditions too many of us know and live with— but so powerfully contextualized. The story follows the lives of 3 generations of Palestinian women and captures the complexity of generational trauma and family, the violence of occupation and diaspora, and of course, the incomprehensible strength and resilience of women. It has given me so much perspective and inspiration, and I will probably read it 100 more times.
Etaf, you are incredibly talented and brave. Thank you for serving the Palestinian, Muslim community in this unconventional way. I appreciate you and support you, and you all should too!
Why I love it
by Siobhan Jones
Before I tell you about this book, I have to tell you a little about its author. Etaf Rum is one of the most thoughtful, dedicated #bookstagrammers in the game. For a few years now, she’s been sharing great literature on her Instagram feed, @booksandbeans, and tirelessly advocating for up-and-coming authors. When I found out she was writing a book of her own, I was pleased for her. And when I read it and found it to be really, really good, I was completely elated.
A Woman Is No Man is a dual story of two women tied by blood. Isra is a young mother who finds herself in an abusive arranged marriage far from her home country, Palestine. Years later, Deya, her daughter, is a teenager growing up in modern-day Brooklyn. Though their upbringings differ, Deya finds herself facing the same life her mother, who died under murky circumstances, was forced to endure: an arranged marriage to a stranger and a life devoid of her own ambitions.
This is one of those family sagas you’ll read in one sitting without coming up for air. Between navigating the conservative forces swirling within their households and upholding the family’s honor, Isra and Deya struggle to stay true to themselves—and Rum’s portrayal of their feats and flaws is masterful. A Woman Is No Man is a revelation. I’m thrilled to join the chorus of readers shouting this book to the rafters.
Read more at: https://bookofthemonth.com/a-woman-is...