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An Amazon Best Book of March 2019: Newlywed Isra thought life would be different when she immigrated to America from Palestine, but her dreams were quickly dashed. You’ll need to steel yourself the more you delve into Etaf Rum's penetrating debut novel A Woman Is No Man, which follows Isra’s journey, and that of her daughter Deya. The clash between dual cultures creates much of the drama, as Deya tries to do what her mother ultimately couldn’t--break free from their family’s violent, misogynistic past and forge her own path in life. While A Woman Is No Man is a rallying cry to resist patriarchal strictures designed to keep women in ‘their place,’ it is also a love letter to books and their transformative power. Reading was one of the only comforts, and acts of rebellion, that Isra enjoyed, and she had a particular affinity for literary heroine Scheherazade: “For a thousand and one nights [her] 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.” It’s the harnessing of that strength that sets Deya, and this family, free. --Erin Kodicek, Amazon 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.” (Beejay Silcox, New York Times Book Review)
“What is a woman’s life worth? This question echoes across countries and generations through Etaf Rum’s intense debut novel…. The narrative draws links between economic desperation and discord in the home [and] also touches on the legacy of violence passed down from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories…. A Woman Is No Man complicates and deepens the Arab American story — a tale as rich and varied as America itself.” (Diana Abu-Jaber Washington Post)
“Sometimes heroism is loud and dramatic. Other times, it is daring to listen to that quiet voice within and have the courage to follow it. In this story, we see inside the lives of three generations of Palestinian women living in America, struggling and suffering to hear that voice. Etaf Rum has done a great service by sharing these voices with us.” (Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of SECRET DAUGHTER and THE GOLDEN SON)
“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 Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is a stunning debut novel that hooked me from page one. With the utterly compelling characters of three Arab-American women, Rum accomplishes the high-wire act of telling a story that feels both contemporary and timeless, intimate and epic. This is a novel you devour in a few precious sittings, that you press into the hands of friends and family, that lingers in your heart and mind long after the last page.” (Tara Conklin, author of THE LAST ROMANTICS)
“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.” (Washington Book Review)
“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.” (Hala Alyan, author of SALT HOUSES)
“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.” (Nadia Hashimi, author of THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL and A HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS)
“A richly detailed and emotionally charged debut.” (Kirkus)
“First-time novelist Rum’s setting… is rare: a Brooklyn Palestinian enclave in which reputation matters above all else…. The daughter of Brooklyn Palestinian immigrants, Rum was often told ‘a woman is no man.’ Overcoming her fear of community reprisal, she alchemizes that limiting warning into a celebration of ‘the strength and power of our women.’” (Booklist)
- ASIN : B072JT5GT5
- Publisher : Harper; Reprint edition (March 5, 2019)
- Publication date : March 5, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 1028 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 363 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #8,577 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Be prepared to meet Isra and immediately be introduced to the depressive condition that is her life—written in its raw, unapologetic, and wholly frustrating form.
I despised everyone.
Isra’s mother for her enabling of her daughter’s submissions, Fareeda for her role in keeping Isra in a state of stagnation, Khaled for resigning himself to a role he would come to champion for his useless sons ...just ...ugh!
All of them made me want to break stuff.
The fact that the book speaks to ideals based within the Arab culture didn’t change my perspective on these characters: I still despised many of them and kept waiting on them to be something more than enablers and abusers.
I guess I’m too Westernized to read something like this because I simply couldn’t forgive Isra’s resignation.
Again, I understand the book is meant to show how restrictive life for a woman can be within the Arab culture, but a lot of what happens to Isra felt, at times, like willful ignorance/downright stupidity.
She couldn’t get out of her own way. It was as if she decided the devil she knew was better than the one she didn’t—no matter the hell she was currently living.
The writing itself was great. Rum understood where she wanted to go with the story and each one of her characters.
In the end, my issue with this book was accepting a world where women are painfully irrelevant; to the point they’re driven to tragic extremes to find anything resembling true freedom.
That was too big of a pill for me to swallow—no matter what truth it’s based in.
Top reviews from other countries
It’s not always easy to read something that questions the very morality of human nature and to think that in this society, in this day and age these things still happen. It’s very easy to, especially by western standards to assume that it’s easy to walk away, but when you come from a country in which submission was all that you knew and culture was the very beacon of hope that you had, how could you?
I was very fortunate that I had a mother who was BRAVE and COURAGEOUS and decided no, this is not the life I want for my daughters or for me.
Growing up in a community in which culture is more heavily favoured then the actual practises of religion I can relate to this fictitious novel on so many levels. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who broke social conventions and took a stand, irrespective of what the consequences she faced were. I was able to, as a result of her ‘defiance’ lead my own life, educate myself to the highest degree and free to marry who I wanted. But I saw the struggles she faced.
Novels like this are for women like my mum who went against social normality for Arab women and totally shatter those traditions. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a woman write so honestly about the trials and struggles of so many women in modern day society and not give a damn about what the repercussions may be. It’s time to voice the harsh reality and we cannot simply leave it to the @etafrum and @reemazaman of the world to voice them. We should too and that is why I dedicate this post to my MOTHER and to all the WOMEN who did what she did.
Etaf I cannot express my gratitude, love and respect for you enough for ‘A Woman is NO Man.’
I have read a lot of books about the state of women in the Arab world, but none touched me so much as this one. Rum has very artfully braided together the story of Isra and Deya, and adorned it with insights from Fareeda and Sarah. I could actually feel Isra’s pain and wanted to help her. Palestinian history is so reeked in violence that it has been handed down to generations and manifests in men like Adam and Khaled, and over time this kind of behavior has been normalized. I also felt that for fortunate women like me studying is an act of compliance, to make a name of myself in this world; but for women like Deya and Isra, it’s an act of defiance. And the struggle of these women whether to defy or not has been skillfully brought out in the story.
Writing this would have been a quite an emotional turmoil for the author. Islamophobia plagues our world today and exposing such a dark side of the Arab world by an Arab woman would be considered a betrayal of the community. The Quran holds women in high regard, but the mortals unfortunately don’t. A women is no man because she is considered inferior to a man, but a woman is also no man because what she might lack in physical strength, she makes up for with resilience and emotional strength.
Started reading this at 9 pm one evening, couldn’t stop reading A Woman is No Man and by 2 a.m. had read half of it.
This is the heartbreakingly sad story, told from the perspective of three people - Isra herself, her daughter, Deya and Kaseeda, her mother in law.
It’s the story of a woman called Isra and her daughters.
Isra, while still living in Bersait, Palestine, marries a man, originally from Palestine whose family had emigrated to America in search of a better life for their family. Isra returns with Adam to America and lives with him and his family, his mother Fareeda, father Khaled and brothers Omar and Ali in a faded red brick house in the diverse immigrant community of Bay Ridge, two blocks east of Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn NY.
Fareeda rules the roost. The other women in the family are expected to obey the harsh rules of the insular patriarchal society Fareeda herself and the Arab friends and contacts in her circle conform to. Harsh experiences of living in a refugee camp in Palestine have given Fareeda the bravery to stand up to her husband Khaled and not accept harsh punishment from him, but still expects the women in her immediate family to be mere chattels to their own husbands, her precious sons. The daughter’s in law in her family were expected to spend their days helping her with the chores of cooking, washing clothes and cleaning. Although their work and skills doing the chores were appreciated by Fareeda, Fareeda’s sons’ needs always came first. Isra, Adam’s wife was supposed to know her place, not answer back and be the mild complacent wife that was expected of her.
Isra had always taken solace in book reading back in her own home in Bersait and from her reading choices of fiction she had developed a romanticised view of how married life might be for her.
‘Some nights she had dreamed she’d marry the love of her life and that they’d live together in a small hilltop house with wide windows and a red-tiled roof. Other nights she could see the faces of her children—two boys and two girls—looking up at her and her husband, a loving family like the kind she’d read about in books’
When her husband Adam, the hardworking elder son of the family running the family deli and working long hours takes his frustrations out on her at night by beating her even though she cooks his favourite meals and tries endlessly to please him. Isra believes it is all her own fault. She’s not trying hard enough. Sometimes he returns home in a pleasant mood and he might take her out sightseeing in the evening but at other times everything she does irritates him
Isra would never stand up to him, just tried to be the person and the wife she thinks he wanted her to be despite his exhaustion and unpredictable nature.
Isra’s spirit continues to be broken bit by bit after bearing Adam’s children, all daughters and therefore displeasing Fareeda to whom daughters are a burden and a grandson would be a blessing. Another daughter is, according to Faseeda, a balwa—a dilemma, a burden.
Faseeda’s own daughter Sarah, a free spirit has her own mind and views and by her stance of non conformity to her mother’s standards has no expectations of meeting a suitor by the usual arranged marriage ritual that was expected of her. Sarah would like to attend college rather than be in an arranged marriage from an early age.
Sarah and Isra become friends and Sarah brings home books from school for Isra to read.
Once again, books bring Isra joy and take her imagination away from her unhappy life. She reads to her daughters and reads her own precious supply of books whenever she can between chores.
When it’s Fareeda and Khaled’s son Omar’s turn to find a wife they once more return to Palestine and then come back to the USA to with Omar and his new wife Nadine
‘“Forget all this American nonsense about love and respect,” Fareeda said to Omar now, turning to make sure Isra was setting the table. “You need to make sure our culture survives, and that means teaching a woman her place.”
As she grows up, Deya has come to terms with the loss of her mother Isra and accepts the story told to her by Fareeda of a car crash in which apparently her mother and father were killed. That is until she is passed a note by a mysterious stranger telling her that she needs to go to a bookshop called ‘Books and Beans’.
At Books and Beans Deya learns of the true fate of her parents and realises there is much she has been unaware of, although her memories of violent conflict between her parents remain.
Deya wishes to attend college but her grandmother Fareeda tries to dissuade her
“It doesn’t matter where we live. Preserving our culture is what’s most important. All you need to worry about is finding a good man to provide for you.”
“College is out of the question. Besides, no one wants to marry a college girl.”
This book is an extreme fictional example of an Arab family who did not integrate into American society and didn’t wish to be a part of it. The book has its critics and especially so from members of those from Muslim/Palestinian origins whose families did integrate successfully, attending college and doing well.
I found it to be a gripping interesting story and it held my interest right until the ending that I thought was a bit of a surprise