A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man - Etaf Rum

Rum's debut novel, recently released, follows the lives of three generations of Palestinian-American women. Isra, a bride brought over from Palestine at 17 in 1990, her eldest daughter Deya at the same age in 2008, and her mother-in-law Fareeda who bridges them. These women form the end of a chain of lives that seem to reach back forever. As Arabic women in America their lives seem without options, they appear voiceless and bound by tradition.


As the opening of 'A Woman is No Man' promises, you have never read a story like this one.


This story begins with Isra contemplating her life in Palestine and obeying her mother's instructions on how to greet her potential in-laws and suitor from America. The narration is third-person limited omniscient, giving us access to Isra's hopes and fears, but leaving those of her mother and her suitor clouded. Isra demanded my attention from the first, and it was sad to see her wish for her daughter's happiness be followed by a chapter following Deya raised without her mother. There is a mystery here.


Deya and her sisters are being raised by their grandparents, her parents are both dead and the focus of Fareeda is to start getting her granddaughters married. It was shocking to me to read of a modern American home, in Brooklyn, where girls' lives are as circumscribed as theirs are. Deya wants a life of her own after high school, not a husband, and college. Her grandparent's won't hear of it.


It takes some time to get to Fareeda's perspective, but her point of view is key to understanding how lives like Deya's and Isra's are perpetuated in the face of reforms even in the United States.


This is a remarkable book.