Cover image for A woman is no man : a novel / Etaf Rum.
Title:
A woman is no man : a novel / Etaf Rum.
Author:
ISBN:
9780062699763
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2019]

©2019
Physical Description:
337 pages ; 24 cm
Abstract:
Three generations of Palestinian-American women in contemporary Brooklyn are torn by individual desire, educational ambitions, a devastating tragedy, and the strict mores of traditional Arab culture.

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children--four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear. Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra's oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda's insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can't help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man. But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family--knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. It is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect. -- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice * A Washington Post 10 Books to Read in March * A Marie Claire Best Women's Fiction of 2019 * A Washington Book Review Difficult-To-Put-Down Novel * A Refinery 29 Best Books of the Month * An Electric Lit 20 Best Debuts of the First Half of 2019 * A The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2019 * A USA Today Best Book of the Week * An Elaine Newton--Summer Reading List Critic's Choice * A Girls Night In Book Club Pick

"I couldn't put it down. I was obsessed with figuring out the mystery of this family." --Jenna Bush Hager, Today Show Book Club Pick

"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 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." --Tara Conklin, New York Times Bestselling Author of THE LAST ROMANTICS

"Where I come from, we've learned to silence ourselves. We've been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of--dangerous, the ultimate shame."

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children--four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.

Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra's oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda's insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can't help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.

But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family--knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.

Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. It is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Rum's pleasing debut employs two timelines to recount the story of a Palestinian family living in America. In the early 1990s, Isra is married off and moves to Brooklyn to live with her husband, Adam, and his culturally traditional parents, Fareeda and Khaled. While Isra stays home to cook and clean, Adam spends all of his time running the family's deli, yet the couple is pressured by Fareeda to produce a son. Isra gives birth to four girls, however, fracturing family relations. The second story line jumps forward two decades to follow Deya, the oldest of Isra's daughters, as she faces the prospect of her own arranged marriage. Deya lives with Fareeda and Khaled, as her parents died in a reported car crash when she was young, and as she resists Fareeda's insistence on finding a suitor, preferring to attend college, Adam's long-absent sister, Sarah, reaches out to her niece. The pair meet clandestinely, and Sarah reveals a far darker family history than Deya suspected. Rum's short chapters crisscross timelines with the zippy pace of a thriller, yet repetitive scenes and unwieldy dialogue deflate the narrative. Though the execution is sometimes shaky, there's enough to make it worthwhile for fans of stories about family secrets. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

A debut novel probes the difficult lives of three generations of Arab-American women. In A hushed bedroom, a woman smears foundation over the bruises on her daughter-in-law's face, layer after silencing layer. "There are things in this life no one should see," she tells the young woman her son has beaten. "When I was your age, I never let anyone see my shame." Etaf Rum's debut novel is 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. "Where I come from," her narrator begins, "we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard-of, dangerous, the ultimate shame. But you have seen us." From a refugee camp near Ramallah to a Brooklyn rowhouse, "A Woman Is No Man" follows three generations of Palestinian women as they confront the claustrophobic expectations that continue to shape their lives. In the spring of 1990, Isra Hadid accepts a marriage proposal that will take her to America, her heart full of fairy-tale hopes. Eighteen years later, her eldest daughter, Deya Ra'ad, longs for college but reluctantly considers potential husbands at the urging of her grandmother Fareeda. When an anonymous note lures Deya to a Manhattan bookshop, the story she knows about her family is violently rewritten. The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, born and raised in Brooklyn, Rum is keenly aware of the risks of exposing her community to the scrutiny of narrative. It's a devil's bargain: Speak and add inadvertent fuel to the ever-smoldering fire of antiArabism - or don't speak and add another layer of silence. "I knew that as long as I stayed away from controversial topics like arranged marriages and domestic abuse, no one would criticize me or call me a traitor. No one would shun me. No one would try to hurt me," Rum has explained. "Perhaps these fears are why there aren't many Arab-American women on bookshelves; why, whenever I search for our stories in bookstores and libraries, I cannot find them." There's a burden that comes with being among the first of your kind; the potential for misinterpretation is too great to leave much to chance. What emerges is a story as didactic as it is brave. "A Woman Is No Man" is both a love letter to storytelling and a careful object lesson in its power. Timorous Isra's heroine is Scheherazade, the bewitching taleteller of "The Thousand and One Nights." "No one asks Scheherazade to marry the king," she marvels. "She volunteers on behalf of all women to save the daughters of Muslims everywhere. For 1,001 nights, Scheherazade's stories were resistance. Her voice was a weapon." Of Rum's three women, it is implacable Fareeda - enforcer of norms, keeper of secrets - whose voice proves the most revelatory. Her marriage at 14 to a stranger in the dust of the al-Am'ari refugee camp has "made a warrior out of her," yet she fights to uphold a system where "the shame of her gender was engraved on her bones." It's a startling portrait of the mechanics of complicity, of the intergenerational pathology of silence. "It took more than one woman to do things differently," Fareeda reflects, wearily. "It took a world of them." Across the globe, a bold new generation of Arab women are putting that defeatism to the test by sharing their stories. The triumph of Rum's novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories. "It's hard to belong anywhere, truly belong, if we don't belong to ourselves first," Deya is told. Distinctly, defiantly and earnestly, "A Woman Is No Man" belongs to itself. A WOMAN IS NO MAN By Etaf Rum 337 pp. Harper/HarperColllns Publishers. $26.99. BEEJAY silcox is an Australian writer and critic based in Cairo.


Library Journal Review

DEBUT In her propulsive first novel, Rum tackles domestic violence and the strict mores of traditional Arab culture, showing how they affect three generations of Palestinian women. The Brooklyn-set story focuses on Isra, a young Palestinian whose family has married her off to Adam and sent her to America to live with his family. His overbearing mother, Fareeda, reinforces the gender restrictions and stereotypes that have led to her own oppression. Rum adeptly knits together the narratives of these two women with that of Isra's daughter Deya to reveal Isra's story. Deya, who lives with her grandparents and Isra's other three daughters, resists an arranged marriage, and Rum injects suspense as Deya gradually discovers the truth about her mother and father's relationship. Thus she gains the strength and insight needed to face her future, perhaps the same strength and insight required of Rum to write this book. VERDICT Rum admits in the introduction that "to tell this story would be the ultimate shame to my community." Through well-developed characters and a wonderfully paced narrative, she exposes the impact that the embedded patriarchy of some cultures can have on women while showing more broadly how years of shame, secrets, and betrayal can burden families across generations no matter what the cultural or religious affiliation. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/24/18.]-Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.