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A Woman Is No Man

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This debut novel by a Palestinian-American voice takes us inside the lives of a conservative Arab family 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.

339 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2019

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Etaf Rum

2 books3,219 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,898 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,068 reviews38.1k followers
February 5, 2023
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 lose 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!!!!

Profile Image for Etaf Rum.
Author 2 books3,219 followers
March 29, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,284 reviews119k followers
February 27, 2020
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?”
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 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.

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.”
“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.”
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.

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 Rum
One 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

-----March 5, 2019 (USA) hardcover
-----February 4, 2020 Trade paperback

==========In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25%, from 20,000 to 15,000 characters. In order to accommodate the text beyond that I have moved it to the comments section directly below, in comment #3

Profile Image for Leena Weddy.
1 review7 followers
November 19, 2018
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!
Profile Image for Robin.
474 reviews2,492 followers
June 24, 2019
This Book is No Literary Masterpiece

A Woman Is No Man definitely did not come close to meeting my expectations. While the subject matter is indeed worthy (the oppression of women in the Arab culture) and the story full of potential (the voiced experiences of three generations of Palestinian women) I feel I have just read something of sub-par quality.

From the first chapter, I could not shed the impression that I was reading a mediocre YA novel, not literary fiction. This book has a distinct lack of complexity or nuance. It is also incredibly repetitive. Characters are always talking to themselves, asking themselves lists of questions, over and over. Scenes, situations and conversations repeat relentlessly.

Rum deserves recognition for telling this story, a story that was kept under wraps for generations. She also does a good job of depicting the cycle of abuse of women in her culture, and the need for courage and education in order to effect change. But the story is told in a very simplistic, after-school-special way. The story and the characters are as flat as a pita bread straight from Fareeda's oven. I don't feel I have learned anything new, and that is sad, considering that I'm a WASP living in Montreal.

5 stars for subject matter. 1 star for delivery. Zero stars for false advertising (I'm looking at YOU, Millions list - wtf?). All this combines for a very grumpy 2 stars from me.
Profile Image for fatma.
873 reviews508 followers
March 15, 2020

1.5 stars

wow this just completely missed the mark huh

◘ I'm so starved for any kind of Arab representation in fiction, let alone ownvoices Muslim Arab representation, so I jumped at the chance to read this when the audiobook popped up on Scribd. And oh boy was I disappointed.

◘ This book's biggest weakness is without a doubt its lack of nuance. I don't want to be the person that's like oh the oppression you represented in your book isn't complicated enough. I'm sure women did and still do experience the kind of marginalization Rum depicts in this book: domestic abuse, a lack of choices, physical confinement, etc. And I also know the amount of pressure that gets put on works by authors of colour to be representative of their entire ethnic/racial groups. I don't want to hold Rum responsible for somehow failing to encapsulate the entirety of the Arab experience; no one book can do that. But all that being said, I still think her book severely lacked nuance—in its representation of all its characters, in its messages, in everything, really.

◘ More than nuance, I think this novel suffers from being EXTREMELY repetitive. By the time you get to the halfway point of the narrative, it feels like you're just reading the same scenes over and over again: Isra makes tea for her mother-in-law, her mother-in-law is disappointed that she's given birth to a girl, Deya's grandmother tells her she should consider her marriage options, Deya says she doesn't want to, Isra loves to read, ad infinitum. When you're reading the same scenes represented in the same simplistic, on-the-nose ways again and again and again, the reading experience starts to drag, quickly.

◘ All of this is not to say that I'm not happy that this book was written; I'm all for more stories about Arab experiences, especially ownvoices ones. I definitely wish there were more, but I'm glad that Arab authors are getting the chance to get books published. I didn't much like this novel in particular, but here's hoping that other good ones are written.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 9 books863 followers
November 21, 2019
The plot isn't creative and the writing dexterity is limited, but it gives voice to a largely voiceless population. Arab women so rarely show up in literature that hearing a story--any story--from their perspective feels fresh and exciting, even when the general premise is tired.

I can appreciate, too, that this isn't just about Arab women, it also seems to be written directly for them. One of the leads is forced to sneak around to read books because it isn't culturally appropriate. She laments that in all her reading none of the characters resemble her, or relate to her experience.

Rum seeks to fix that problem with a story fully devoted to the female Arab experience. She also has an abundantly clear goal to inspire readers to break the bonds of tradition and become independent. Much of the book can be summed up as: "Daughter, you must be married!" "But Mama I want to go to college!"

Lest there be any confusion about which path is right, the complacent daughters live miserable lives while everything is peachy keen for the girls who rebel and become Americanized. In the end there's room for both paths, but I did wish the author depicted more positive aspects of Arab culture. At times it comes across preachy, if not personally bitter, against tradition.

The preachiness may be a style decision, however. Much of the dialogue sounds childish, with themes stated outright and points made excessively clear. I think this is done intentionally for the sake of Arab-American girls whose first language may not be English. The novel is extremely accessible, and meant to be that way. That's not a bad thing. Maybe the style will turn off some people like me, but I think it's a smart decision overall given her goals.

Definitely happy with my reading experience, even if it ended up being more surface-level than desired.
Profile Image for Hannah.
363 reviews38 followers
March 10, 2019
I think this book is about how women are oppressed? Maybe? It’s mentioned only 20 times on every page, so it’s a little unclear.

I hope the sarcasm there is as transparent as this book’s message. Bad, heavy-handed writing reads like what a beginner creative writing student produces. HERE IS MY THEME, it announces. HERE IS MY MESSAGE. MY CHARACTERS TAKE A BACK SEAT TO MY SOCIAL COMMENTARY. Not sure how this has such a high rating on Goodreads, or anywhere, for that matter. Bad bad bad.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
March 13, 2019
A look inside an embedded patriarchal culture. Isra loves to read, books show her a wider world than the insular one where she lives. Custom, however, dictates that women cannot continue with their schooling but must marry instead. When a Palestinian family, one who now make their home in New York, travel back to Palestine to find a bride for their eldest son, Isra finds herself married. She wants to fall in love, to be loved and to have more freedom. She is hoping in America to find a three.

A culture, where a man is allowed to do anything, where a woman is just a possession, everything she has or does is at the mercy of a man. The worst thing a woman can do is bring shame on her family.
Isra is someone whose hopes and fears, tug at the heartstrings. Wanting more, she must settle for less. Her eldest daughter will take on the challenge of being allowed to make ones own decisions. So the story alternates between the two, with an occasional chapter narrated by Fareeda, Isras mother in law. We learn all three of their stories.

Isra's plight drew me in, her daughters made me hopeful. I finished this, looked around at my pile of books and thought how luck i was that no one stopped me from reading. So lucky. This was at times a very emotionally draining story, but I think a necessary one. A look inside what is for many a life of darkness. This let's a little light in, by making us aware of what goes on inside some of these closed cultures.

ARC by Harper Collins.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,054 reviews30k followers
April 3, 2020
Sometimes you read a book and you have no idea where to start because your emotions are all over the place? Am I right? But I also want to write my review now because my emotions are fresh, and this book was an emotional ride from start to finish. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Told in two past timelines with different narrators, we mostly hear from eighteen-year-old Deya, and her mother, Isra. We also occasionally hear from Fareeda, Deya’s grandmother and Isra’s mother-in-law.

The family is Palestinian, and the story begins with Isra living in Palestine and succumbing to an arranged marriage with a Palestinian American, Adam. I say “succumbing” because she did not want to get married and leave her family thousands of miles behind.

Isra also shares that she did not grow up in the most loving of homes, including insights into a daughter’s unique role in the family- getting the tea and coffee just right, not being educated, and keeping quiet about the physical abuse that occurs.

Deya also does not want to get married, and Fareeda is working hard to arrange her match. Deya Dreams of college and loves to read. She travels many of the same roads as her mother- being seen as a burden because she is a girl, not placing a value on her education, her voice not being heard, requiring constant supervision…

There’s also a mystery within this story. Deya has been told her parents died in a car accident, but she learns that is not the case. So what happened to them? There is a web of secrets Deya never could have imagined.

I savored A Woman Is No Man. I read it slowly and reflected throughout. The writing is beautiful, but precise, and completely engaging, and it begs thoughtfulness. In my own family, I received mixed messages about the roles of women, but mostly, my biggest takeaways were that I was to be educated and fierce. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be taught the exact opposite messages, repeatedly, day in and out, with total silence about reality being the norm.

Overall, A Woman Is No Man is a thoughtful, honest, powerful portrayal of a family, its cultural values, and its inner workings. Sometimes we remember the experiences we have while reading a book. The thoughts, self-reflections. I can tell you this story will never leave me.

This important article written by the author is not to be missed. https://lithub.com/even-after-writing...

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,394 reviews7,265 followers
March 8, 2019
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Let me begin by saying that after my last experience with an internet famous "author" (term used as loosely as possible since she didn’t even write the thing, but failed to give credit where credit was due until being called out about it), there is zero chance I would have ever read this. Unfortunately, I’m not super hip on the times and as soon as I saw this was going to be a Book of the Month selection I immediately put a library hold on it. Much to my surprise, I had first dibs and already had it downloaded and started before I saw . . . . .

Uhhhhhhhh . . . . .

WTF? Let me clarify things real quick that I know nothing about this author aside from the fact that I really enjoy her “coffee cups and book covers” Instagrams. However, I have been trolled near to death by rabid fanbases authors like these tend to generate and really wouldn’t have volunteered for another potential 10 rounds in the ring as their punching bag should history repeat itself. But I am not a DNF-er so I kept plugging along.

Obviously from my rating I hated this one, but Imma keep it short and sweet when it comes to why.

1. As mentioned above, this is a Book of the Month pick. I’ve seen it shelved as contemporary fiction, historical fiction and the ever-so-dreaded “chick lit” as well. Here’s what I have to say about that . . . . .

This is YA. Period.

2. In case you didn’t know, this is a book that is supposed to deliver a message. Here’s how it goes about doing it . . . . .

THIS REVIEW sums things up perfectly.

3. I have a feeling this book will never find it’s true intended audience, but I’m also terrified that it will make its way into the hands of the Alt Right who will be more than happy to quote things like this:

“How would they have enough money to cover expenses of a newborn? When she’d asked, Fareeda had merely smiled and said, “Don’t worry about that. With food stamps and Medicaid, you can have as many children as you want.”"

4. Most importantly? Simply put, it’s just . . . . .

The writing is amateurish, the pacing non-existent, the characters all Flat Stanleys (that means one-dimensional, in case you need it womansplained for you), and aside from that dead horse being turned into a gooey pulp, nothing ever happens until around the 80% mark. Looking for a book about growing up as a Middle-Easterner? Pick up Persepolis . Want a book that will make you feel all the feels about families and different generations from a non-white storyteller? Grab The Joy Luck Club .
Profile Image for jessica.
2,478 reviews29.7k followers
June 17, 2020
wow. this book holds so many significant messages - the importance of educating oneself, how to find your voice, leaning that self-acceptance is the only necessary acceptance, and what it means to be a woman. but most importantly, this also shows how life-saving stories/books can be. i adored the critical role reading plays in many of the characters lives. as a bookworm, nothing makes me happier.

that being said, i have a couple of critiques. i dont really like how men are portrayed in this. every main male character is inherently cruel. im not sure if this is a specific personal representation or what, but with this story having a very obvious feminist tone, the overwhelming negative characterisation of men kind of rubs me the wrong way. and because the oppression is so blatant, there is no nuance for the message. i swear i read the words ‘women have no choices!’ at least fifty different times. its so repetitive. yes, the message is important but the writing started to feel like it was beating a dead horse by the end.

this is a debut novel so i believe these characterisation and writing skills will come in time. there is a lot of promise within the pages of this book and theres no doubt it gives a voice to so many who are marginalised, so i will definitely be keeping an eye out for ERs future stories.

3.5 stars
March 17, 2019
As a Palestinian woman born and raised in Brooklyn, New York I’m tremendously offended by the context of this book. I lived in Bay Ridge, and all I remember from my childhood was being in a loving, warm and supportive environment. My parents, my father especially insisted that I go to school and do well. He paid my way through private school and then through college. Not once did I ever feel oppressed, or less than my brothers. I was surrounded by strong liberal women, my mother being the first and foremost. All of this being said I take great offense to how Palestinian men are portrayed...my brothers are Palestinian, my husband is Palestinian and my greatest supporter my FATHER is Palestinian. Neither one of the men in my life have ever raised a hand to hit me, or have they ever made me feel unworthy. Please, for those reading this book in ignorance, do not be fooled. This story is not true for all Palestinian women and men. This author does not speak on behalf of me or any Palestinian woman I know.
PS: My father worked 18 hours a day 6 days a week. We have never depended on government assistance a day in our lives.
Profile Image for Karen.
552 reviews1,081 followers
April 1, 2019
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!
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
466 reviews1,277 followers
July 1, 2019
This is one of those stories that will dig in deep and make you want to scream at these cultures that undervalue women.
We know we are different -physically - but that’s where it stops.
Putting my anger aside, this is a beautifully written story of 2 Women who have migrated to America from Palestine and a daughter born in America.
The struggle of upholding traditional customs while assimilating into a new culture.

Rum captures voices of traditions, secrets and shame; Loneliness and depression. She is both credible and passionate.

Told from 3 perspectives from 3 generations, these cultures treat their women as possessions; their intelligence undermined and shame is perpetuated because they are less than their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers.

This one made me weep. I cry for you Isra and the other women who continue to be treated as anything other than an equal. May you find courage to defy customs and continue to fight for change. An emotional read.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,402 reviews8,125 followers
June 12, 2021
Okay so I loved this book, my second five-star fiction read of 2021! The novel follows two alternating timelines within the same Palestinian-Arab family: Isra, when she first leaves Palestine to marry into Adam’s family and live in the United States, and eighteen-year-old Deya, who lives in Brooklyn and learned at a young age that her mother Isra and her father Adam both died in a car accident. Deya begins to question this narrative about her parents when she receives a secret note from a mysterious yet familiar-looking woman, which leads Deya to also interrogate all she knows about her place in the world as a young woman, expected to marry a man and raise his children, who wants to go to college and yet is forbidden to do so.

I felt enamored with how Etaf Rum writes about gender in A Woman is No Man. She portrays more explicit forms of patriarchy for sure, such as how Isra and other women are relentlessly pressured into only existing to support their husbands and raise their husband’s children. Rum also displays more nuanced manifestations of patriarchy, such as how Fareeda, Isra’s step-mother and Deya’s grandmother, internalizes this sexism and perpetuates it to disempower all of the other women in her life. I appreciated how Rum portrayed the deleterious effects of toxic masculinity too, how the pressure inflicted upon Adam contributed to his horrifying abuse of Isra. While I agree with other reviewers that sometimes Rum’s writing felt a bit repetitive or stilted, such as the initial conversations between Deya and the mysterious woman in her life, the characters’ emotions still felt genuine. I also liked how Rum included details about how Zionism – which the United States is complicit in through providing billions of dollars to Israel in military aid – generated the intergenerational trauma that affects Fareeda, Isra, and other members of their family.

Despite this book’s vivid and brutal depiction of domestic abuse and stifling gender roles, I felt great hope when reading about how certain female characters did their best to fight back against their circumstances and reclaim their lives. I loved reading about Isra, Sarah, and Deya and how these women supported one another’s dreams even when other women tried to tear them down. Rum’s emphasis on the theme of books, knowledge, and education as empowerment both materially and psychologically resonated with me and made me feel once again grateful for the ability to access social justice and feminist texts.

The pacing of this book enhanced my reading experience of it too. Rum inserts just the right amount of suspense into the alternating timelines between Isra and Deya to keep us on our toes. I liked how she set scenes and how she wrote about characters’ internal suffering, such as how she humanized Fareeda despite her cruelty toward Isra.

Overall an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone interested in fiction about gender and family. I think I read this one at the right time for me because I’ve been feeling pretty hopeless about how white supremacy, amatonormativity, and patriarchy have been affecting my own life, and Rum reminded me of the power I wield in my own individual choices even when it feels like these systems of oppression are so entrenched (of course I recognize the difference between my privileged circumstances and those of the characters in this novel.) Yay for novels that feel both bleak and hopeful, that feature characters with strong voices doing their best to survive and care for others even in awful conditions.
Profile Image for Muberra.
64 reviews52 followers
April 10, 2019
Can we get a book centred around Muslim characters that's not about forced marriages, terrorism etc? Or are we just going to stick with the same narrative that we are "backwards" and "oppressed" to reinforce the wests perception of us?
Profile Image for Michelle.
588 reviews443 followers
March 30, 2019
Prepare to feel conflicted.
If you liked my last inner dialogue review, you're in luck because this is going to be a long mess. (My thoughts that is.)

Let's talk a little bit about me. I'm 37, white, of Russian/German/French/Swedish/Irish/Canadian descent, born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I'm a progressive, have a graduate degree and am part of the middle class. (Whatever that means anymore.) The reason for the bio is that I could not be further away from the characters in this book. Besides being a woman myself, that's about it. I decided to read this because I'm trying to read about people, cultures and places I know very little about because that is what is so wonderful about reading. You may not have the means to travel to all the places you want to go (or meet the people you want to meet, eat the food, etc. etc.), but with reading, you can go anywhere and be anyone.

I know nothing about Palestine. Nothing. If I was to play the word association game and someone said Palestine, the first words that would come to my mind are Israel or Bill Clinton. Yup - that's what we're working with here. So again - back to the book - I jumped at the chance to learn and educate myself. I think this was a good book. I liked it. However, I think there should be some asterisks involved to all of the readers who could be described similarly to me.

1) Palestine is located in a very volatile and complex part of the world. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt here only because I am totally uneducated and it takes many different perspectives and lots of research to form an educated opinion on something. Especially some place and somewhere like this.

2) The cycle of violence and marginalization of women that is probably 3/4 of this book (more on that later) also makes me think this should be taken with a grain of salt. Again, this is one view of an entire culture/group of people. I can't paint every Arab/Palestinian family with this brush because that's just not fair.

3) I think the author was very brave to write about this if this is what she knows. I don't know anything about her, I haven't looked into her reasons for writing this at all, but I want to recognize anyone's courage for a) writing a book b) writing a book like this. Here is why: you KNOW that people are going to read this and say, "Wow, what a mess those people are! Beating their wives and children, having baby after baby after baby (especially because you can go on welfare) we should NEVER let them stay in county x if they come here." I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this kind of behavior happens in every culture.

So while I think there is a lot of value here, I think someone who reads this needs to make sure they go a step further and look for more.

What confused the crap out of me - I didn't quite understand why the needle on the record got stuck and we just kept listening to the same sound on a loop. I've seen other reviews where people likened this to being beaten over the head with the domestic violence and oppression of women, but man - I was on page 200 and thought what is the point of all this? Where is this going? Why are all the characters stuck? And the ending. WTF?

Overall - I guess you should read this, but be prepared to skim-read. I didn't, but I think a lot of people will. There are important things that are said here, but it's one perspective out of many. It's our job as responsible citizens to educate ourselves on the full picture. I have to work very hard every day to go against my inner biases and that doesn't stop with what I read either. Also, if you're still reading this - you're a true friend and I thank you for staying with me. :)
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,686 reviews2,241 followers
May 6, 2019
”Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly.”

”Where I come from, we’ve learned to conceal our condition. We’ve been taught to silence ourselves, that our silence will save us. It is only now, many years later, that I know this to be false. Only now, as I write this story, do I feel my voice coming.”

”You’ve never heard this story before. No matter how many books you’ve read, how many tales you know, believe me: no one has ever told you a story like this one. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of, dangerous, the ultimate shame.”

This story is shared through the voices of three generations of women – Isra Hadid, Deya Ra’Ad who is Isra’s daughter, and Fareeda Ra’Ad who is Isra’s mother-in-law and mother of Adam, Isra’s husband. This story takes us to two locations, Palestine, where Isra was born and raised, and Brooklyn, New York, where Isra moves with her Palestinian-American husband in the early 1990s.
At the age of seventeen, Isra had received marriage proposals, which her father had turned down, waiting for this family who is now living in America, and their search for a bride for their son.

”A daughter was only a temporary guest, quietly awaiting another man to scoop her away, along with all her financial burden.”

It mattered not what her wishes were, if she had wanted to marry for love, hoped for a romance like those out of the books she so loved to read, or even to pursue other dreams. This is what was expected of her.

”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 sabr, patience.”

They marry, and it isn’t long before her new mother-in-law, Fareeda, is asking about the grandson she is hoping will arrive soon. And Isra produces a child, a girl, soon after. And then another, and another, and yet another, but no sons. It is a source of much shame to Fareeda, who seems to see shame in so many things that are out of Isra’s control. As though it is also Isra’s fault that Adam takes out of his frustrations and anger at his job, and the world on her, leaving marks and bruises that Fareeda insists that she cover, so that she will not bring more shame on this family.

During the timeline when Deya is a teenager, in 2008, the girls are living with Fareeda and Khaled, have lived with them since their parents died ten years before, and preparations are being made for potential suitors to present themselves to Deya, while she protests that she wants to go to college. But the traditions of their culture persist in swaying Fareeda’s prodding that she should just spend time with these young men. After all, why should she waste her time reading, learning, when everyone has predetermined her future is to be a wife and mother.

An important, and beautifully shared story of the repetitive nature of abuse in families, and in cultures that seem to isolate themselves from communities beyond their personal boundaries – but this can apply to any community that sees itself as “set apart” from their neighbors. The continued cycle of blaming victims for being victims of abuse is something we seem time and again in varying cultures, religions, communities, countries. A variation on a very dangerous theme.

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Nicole.
708 reviews1,736 followers
September 25, 2021
2.5 stars

I read this book a few months ago and didn't get the chance to review it, which is sad because I had a lot to say about this book but sadly, between my exams and work, I barely had time to read let alone review.

So here's what stuck with me about this:

First, you should know that I'm Lebanese and live in the Middle East. I have many Muslim girl friends. Lebanon is the most "open-minded" country where women have the most freedom in the Arab world but I still know a lot about their circumstances. So while as a person I cannot relate, I know the traditions and mentality. I was looking forward to reading this book and discovering how it'll weave cross generational Arab Muslim family relations. Sadly, it didn’t live up to its premise.

And let me tell you this book way overdid it. You see, the events of this book as separate events might happen. Some people still think in that backward way. But the way this book portrayed the Arab parents was very.. generalized. It gave the illusion that all men beat their wives in the Arab world for example. And of course, that's not true. There are bad people everywhere of every race. I'd be first to criticize Arab families but I just had to roll my eyes eventually reading this book.

It doesn't give an accurate description of Arab families living abroad or in their home country.

It's as if every bad thing in the families of the Arab world (that can also be applied to other families from other ethnicities) happened to our characters. I won't delve into what actions those were because I'm avoiding spoilers but suffice to say that is unrealistic. As I said, while they can happen separately or even some together, but the "negatives" of Arab families are way too much to happen just in one family. It’s like Rum tried to include every bad thing she can think of. I don't buy this story and neither should you.

To be clear, I do believe that Arab men are usually more oppressive towards women than men from most backgrounds (I mean look at the Gulf) but the book tried to deal with too much at once. I wish Rum just focused on specific issues and explored them better.

Other than that, the audiobook was enjoyable and the pronunciations of the Arabic words were mostly correct. It was also easy to follow. I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for a book that gives you an insider look at Muslim Arab families' lives. This book certainly ain't it. I honestly don't know what to recommend instead but yeah don't believe everything this book tells you.
Profile Image for Amy Bruestle.
273 reviews205 followers
November 15, 2018

I want to start off by saying that I was fortunate enough to have won this book from a giveaway in exchange for an honest review...

3.5 stars is my rating for this book, here’s why:

The concept for this book alone is definitely 5-star worthy! Stories like Isra’s and Deya’s need to be told more often, as there really isn’t much literature out there about the struggles Arabic women have faced and are currently facing! But as much as I was pulled in with interest about this topic, it couldn’t have been told much slower. Unfortunately it felt to me like the author just prolonged the book by dragging out and repeating the same things over and over in different but extremely similar ways. This is mainly where I struggled with the book. I don’t know if the author repeated things on purpose in hopes of reiterating the importance of the point she was trying to make, or if she simply didn’t realize her repetition. As far as spelling and grammar goes, I only came across a few errors throughout the book, but for the most part, it was mistake-free. Lastly, my only other “issue” per-say with the book, is the ending! Like seriously??! My personal opinion only, but I think it would have ended better with Deya being the last chapter...but my main issue was how it ended with Isra getting on the subway with her daughters. We know that Adam ends up killing her, so it seemed weird that it didn’t include any mention of that in the ending. Especially because it felt like the last 20 chapters were all building up to that scene, and then “Poof!” ...NOTHING. Isra gets on a subway. That bothered me.

However, even though there were things that I didn’t like, there were also many things that I did enjoy! The story itself was wonderful. If Etaf Rum had condensed it better, I think it would make a huge difference! It is obvious that she has talent, and you can feel her voice speak through the pages!

I think the author was great in writing this and getting her story out there! The events in this book need to be talked about more!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Book of the Month.
229 reviews12.5k followers
February 1, 2019
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...
Profile Image for Amina.
340 reviews88 followers
November 12, 2022
A Woman Is No Man, is one in a few books, that tackles the story of first generation Arab Muslims and the shaky road taken to America. It could have been so much more than what is was—a tyrannical bash session in a never ending loop of devastation.

It includes the uneducated woman, the obedient woman, the obedient defiant woman, the desperate woman, the abused woman, the trapped woman. What was left? The repetition on the same topic kept resonating throughout the novel. It felt disheartening, to read a novel about an underrepresented group, with such disdain.

This is the story of Isra, and her arrival to the West, after living a life of the typical, prototypal obedient wife and daughter. She has no say, no voice. In essence, she is the woman that is not a man. The story follows her teenage daughter and her own misfortunes at the heel of her mother's struggles. The story teeter-totters between the two women, creating the most generalized version of what the west assumes: Muslim women are created to be oppressed.

Are the themes in the book possible? Probable? They most definitley are. However, why did Etaf Rum need to jump to such high handed conclusions. There wasn't one redeeming character in the book. Rum creates an impression that all Arab parents are misogynistic and punishing. This simply is not the case. The eye-rolling was an ever present phenomena whiled reading this book.

I feel disappointed, Rum took such great lengths to represent a culture that already has a generalized bias of chaos and tyranny. Rum could have created a dichotomy, to balance the harshness of the chaotic misogyny in the book.

Also, the ending left me completely confused. I had to google my way through understanding what happened. The story ended so abruptly and skewed.

I know, A Woman Is No Man, was highly popular and I am late to the game, but it just wasn't a great read for me. It felt too preachy and perpetuated the lost Muslim woman theme.
2/5 stars.
Profile Image for lady h.
639 reviews182 followers
February 11, 2020
I really, really did not like this book. I have a lot of thoughts about it from a personal standpoint, as an Arab-American woman, but first, let's get the technical stuff out of the way, because there are a lot of issues on that front as well.

So, this book is poorly-written. It reads like a ham-fisted attempt at a pretentious and ~meaningful~ literary novel but instead just comes off sounding like a bad YA book. The author continuously beats the reader over the head with her message; it's completely amateurish. This novel felt like Rum was trying to work out her own feelings and experiences but then just forgot to edit the actual book into something a little more mature; instead it reads like a repetitive ramble. Though the book is a quick read, it's never particularly engrossing, mainly because all the scenes feel like repeats of one another.

The dialogue is another glaring problem: it's painfully wooden and juvenile. None of these characters sounded like real people; they all either spoke incredibly dramatically and bombastically or they waxed eloquent. Any nuanced depiction of character the author attempted came across as clumsy and awkward; it was like Rum sat down to write this novel with a clear idea of the particular themes and ideas she wanted to communicate and just fit her characters around that, without any thought for story or character development.

My main issue, however, has to do with the depiction of the Arabs and Arab-Americans in this book. There's a few things to discuss here, and I'll do my best not to ramble.

1. This book is written for white people. I'm sorry, but it just is. It is so clear from the very first page, where an overdramatic intro declares, "I was born without a voice" and "We keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of, dangerous, the ultimate shame." It invokes harems and insular communities and backwards thinking. Then there's weirdly Orientalist lines like "her hair was long and dark like the Nile." Then there's the random peppering of the text with Arabic words, followed by clunky explanations. None of this felt natural. It was like the author was explicitly exoticizing and orientalizing her own culture in order to satisfy the appetites of non-Arab consumers.

2. This book lacks any sort of nuance. Perhaps written by a more deft hand, it wouldn't have come across so stereotypical and cliched, but the author simply did not have the skill to pull off a balanced narrative. In her interviews, she speaks about the danger of a single story and her fear of compounding stereotypes, but then she just goes right ahead and does that anyway. I don't want to put the burden of representation on a single person's shoulders, of course, and I am not denying that misogyny and patriarchy are rife among Arab communities, but there is something about the singular way it is portrayed in this book that got under my skin. Characters say weird things like "culture could not be escaped" and make it seem as though there is something uniquely Arab about patriarchy and misogyny.

There is one scene in particular that irritated me; one character is declaring that domestic violence is illegal in America and that women call the police on men who beat them. The way the scene plays out, particularly within the context of the novel, creates a stark divide between the backwards East and the civilized West. The narrative never interrogates this lie at all, never addresses the realities of domestic abuse and sexual assault in America.

Rum certainly tries to address the socioeconomic and political undercurrents of men's abuse in Palestinian communities, but it's so poorly done. She keeps trying to connect men's violence to the pain of their upbringing: growing up refugees, in exile, as a result of Israeli violence and invasion, and their struggles as working-class immigrants. But again, this makes it seem like domestic violence is an inescapable Arab problem, woven not only into the culture but into a people's historical past, and unique to them. It doesn't help that pretty much every single male character in this book beats women, and beats them violently.

And look, I'm not begrudging Rum her personal experience, but I have to wonder how much is embellished for dramatic purposes, and how much of a hand her editor had in that. One of the things that made me roll my eyes was all of Deya's high school classmates being married off. I mean, seriously? I know a ton of Arab girls who attended Islamic schools (including my best friend and her sisters!); most of them live perfectly ordinary lives and are encouraged to attend college. In an interview, Rum said that one of her Arab friends was in fact strongly encouraged by her parents to continue her education and go to college, so where is she in this book? Why not at least mention characters with divergent experiences, so the book doesn't come off like it's spouting the worst stereotypes about Arabs?

It was as though Rum tried desperately hard to make sure that the men in her world were portrayed as terribly as possible, as though that would somehow buffet the overall narrative. Take Isra's husband, Adam: at the start of the novel, his relationship with Isra is still terrible, but realistic. He's sullen and tired from working all the time, barely has time for her, kind of ignores her, and in general is just kind of thoughtless. That would have been fine. That would have been enough. Why was it necessary for him to suddenly, out of nowhere, start violently beating her, just like all the other men in this novel violently beat their wives like it's nothing? (And yeah, you might come away from this book thinking that men hitting their wives is just perfectly acceptable in Arab communities; it absolutely is not, despite how much this book wants you to think that. There are so many nuanced conversations to be had about the particular ways in which domestic violence manifests in Arab countries and amongst Arab diaspora but this book...just does not do that in any way.)

3. This book tries to take on a lot of big issues: domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, the lie of the American dream, the pain of exile, the struggles of being a working class immigrant. This would be a lot for anyone, but this author simply did not have the skill to balance all of these issues deftly. Instead all of these issues brush up against each other in a very messy way; none of them are ever given the depth and exploration they deserve, because the book is so heavily focused on the ~mystery~ of what happened to Deya's parents, which really isn't a mystery at all; I guessed the outcome of this novel immediately, but only because it is literally the most cliched, stereotypical outcome of all time.

4. This book offers zero new perspectives. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed it was written by a white woman with a savior complex, because it feels so utterly dated and superficial. Rum tries to attempt a delicate balance between criticizing her culture and appreciating it, but it just never meaningfully comes across in any coherent way; whether that's because she simply lacks the skill as an author or because she didn't spend enough time interrogating these issues is anyone's guess. Because this book honestly reads like a cathartic exercise, which is why I really wish it had been written as a memoir, rather than this vaguely Orientalist, sensationalist literary thriller lacks any kind of subtlety.

At best, this is a dramatic soap opera, and it does have that compulsively readable quality to it. But really, it's just a weak novel that fails at the (admittedly very difficult) things it was trying to achieve, rendering it utterly hollow, cliched, and, to be perfectly frank, incredibly irritating.
Profile Image for Stacey A.  Prose and Palate.
356 reviews114 followers
March 7, 2019
“On her knees on the floor, she could barely breathe. Blood leaked from her nose and down her chin. But she wiped her face and told herself she would take a beating every night if it meant standing up for her girls.”

Every now and then a book comes along that impacts me so much it changes who I am as a reader and as a person. It leaves me reeling, it haunts me, it compels me to dig deeper, to stop everyone I know and tell them “if you only read one book this month, THIS IS THE BOOK YOU NEED TO READ.” A Woman Is No Man is such a book. Etaf Rum's story stirred such a powerful, visceral reaction in me as a mother, as a woman and as a human being that I honestly don’t know if I will ever recover from it. And that’s a good thing.

Every time I have gone to post a pretty picture on Instagram of my current read with a latte or a giant book stack, the image of Isra, desperate to get her hands on a book and read, to find herself and her story within the pages of a novel, flashes through my mind. She was denied these things simply because she was a woman. Her place (she was told) was to have children, cook and keep a clean house… not educate herself and dream. She and millions like her live this reality on a daily basis right now in 2019.

It is an honor to be a part of the Harper Books blog tour for this powerful novel. My full review can be found here: https://www.proseandpalate.com/home/2.... This was a 5 star read for me and easily one of the best books I have ever read. If this book is not on your TBR list, you need to rectify that IMMEDIATELY.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
801 reviews3,761 followers
June 30, 2019
book #2 for #ReadTheMiddleEast readathon ✓

to say i am conflicted is to put it lightly

i have A LOT of thoughts but fjkldajfkal will i write this review or not????? stay tuned to find out!!!
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,277 reviews119 followers
April 17, 2019
Pressure. I can’t even conceive of the pressure immigrant Arab women must live under. Rum is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants herself, and like her character Deya Ra’Ad she was born and raised in Brooklyn in a Palestinian-Arab enclave. The pressure to maintain Palestinian customs and its patriarchal culture is suffocating. Rum has chosen to expose the burden this places on women, despite the fact that it plays into certain anti-Arab stereotypes.

Rum tells the stories of three women. There is Deya Ra’Ad who is currently 18 years old and hoping to pursue college before getting married. Her mother, Isra married Adam at the age of 17 and immigrated to Brooklyn from one of the Palestinian refugee camps. Isra is expected to get pregnant repeatedly to produce sons. After four daughters by the age of 21, she is regarded as a failure. The grandmother, Fareeda is a force-of-nature. She is determined to maintain Palestinian norms within her family. She was married at the age of 14 to a stranger while living in the al-Am’ari refugee camp, and later moved with her husband to America. BUT, she wants nothing to do with American ‘ways’, and hopes to someday return to her native land. In sum, she is the mother-in-law from hell. Quiet, obedient Isra is no match for this gorgon. Pressure! This household is chocked full of it. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Alex.
625 reviews84 followers
March 20, 2019
Nope. Had to DNF. This was wrong on so many levels. It starts with a premise I was excited about, looking at the Palestinian diaspora but disappointed on all levels. The characters are caricatures, there is no subtlety just hammer the heads of the readers with the themes of misogyny and the plight of women in Muslim/Arab American families, but falls back on the worst stereotypes to convey the point. these are issues I want explored but I could not connect with the tone and voices the author relies on. In a book that is painfully obvious a first novel, the writing is too polished, almost stilted, and does its best to tell and not show. The author seems like a super eager and keen person but I just felt that she did not accomplish what she set out to do. I’m obviously in a minority based on the reviews but I just can’t recommend this one.
Profile Image for Britany.
941 reviews415 followers
April 7, 2020
Two storylines- Two nations and Two outcomes.

1990: Isra lives in Palenstine and her marriage is arranged between the Ra'ad family who live in America. Isra believes this is the fresh start and freedom lays ahead. 2008: Deya is living in a muslim household with her grandparents in her senior year of high school. She dreams of college, but her grandmother dreams of a suitor to marry her off to.

As you can imagine, the storylines converge and we quickly understand the relationships and the tough love Fareeda (g-ma) gives out. Tough histories and the message that women are not men was heavily pushed. I really enjoyed reading about the different perspectives of the Muslim tradition and how different family members adapt and push away their own daughters, easily turning their back on their flesh & blood. I have to say that I knew something was coming just didn't anticipate it being what it was. I thought the writing was strong, although repetitive at times, but a strong debut novel from Rum. I enjoyed this novel, but didn't think it was as amazing as everyone else seemed to. I am looking forward to seeing what Etaf Rum writes about next.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,380 reviews518 followers
February 10, 2019
The cover, title and preface of A Woman Is No Man are very striking and I was drawn into the pages immediately. Set in Brooklyn, the novel is about the voiceless women in a Palestinian immigrant family.

The story felt familiar, I have read so many novels about the oppressed lives of women living within insular communities - Orthodox Jewish, Morman, Saudi Arabian etc. But Rum has created the story anew. She captures the trapped doom of Isra perfectly. I rooted for her and her daughters while wishing she could break out. No one is happy within this family - the men hold more power but are also trapped in the fatalistic cycle of their lives - doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Or not - we see that change is possible. This was a novel that I couldn't put down, needing to find out what happens.
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