Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man is the searingly personal story of three generations of Palestinian Muslim women living in Brooklyn and navigating relationships made complicated by the gap between cultural expectations of Arab women and their increasing desires to be free and independent.
Isra is 18 living in Palestine when she’s sent to live in America with her new husband. She understands the cultural underpinnings of being an Arab Muslim woman, knows her place and her role in the world and her family. But she can’t help but feel hopeful that America will provide new opportunities for her that women in Palestine don’t have access to.
Years later, Deya is being raised by her grandparents in Brooklyn. Her mother, Isra, died when she was seven. Deya always has her head stuck in a book and dreams of going to college rather than marry a man she doesn’t know and become a housewife. Her very strict Arab Muslim grandparents have other plans for her, though.
Fareeda is Deya’s grandmother and Isra’s mother-in-law. Her life has been complicated in many ways, but she has never questioned her role in the family. She is a strong woman with strong beliefs and only wants to prepare her kin for the world they were born into.
Each woman’s story is unique, but each connects with the others’ to create a compelling inter-generational story about the resiliency of women, cultural expectations and pressures, and breaking the mold.
Please take caution while reading A Woman Is No Man if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
- Child abuse
- Death / dying
- Pregnancy / childbirth
- Miscarriages / abortion
- Mental illness
- Sexism and misogyny
A Woman Is No Man was absolutely and utterly fantastic. Rum delves into the relatively unknown world of Arab Muslim womanhood with unmatched bravery and honesty. The intertwining, inter-generational timelines are brilliant and cause you to say to yourself, far past your bedtime, just one more chapter.
This story is powerful for many reasons – the first being that it’s one that hasn’t been told. Personally, I knew very little about Arab Muslim culture, let alone the pressures it places on its women. I took away from this novel a better understanding of the culture and its rich and robust traditions.
Because Isra, Deya, and Fareeda each had a distinct voice throughout the novel, it is clear how outside influences, new generations, and time can affect culture. Fareeda is the most strict with the Arab Muslim culture, while Isra begins to question it and Deya begins to consider breaking from it. The evolving liberality of women as the story goes on is very compelling.
Finally, I applaud Rum for identifying a need for a story about an Arab Muslim woman and then filling that need with this story. In the novel, Deya and Isra share the revelation that there aren’t stories written for or about people like them, and it is not lost on me that Rum has fulfilled this desire with such a personal and honest novel.
A Woman Is No Man is a humanizing, touching, and infuriating story that enlightens and pulls at the heart strings of its reader. It is a vitally important story to be told, and I highly recommend that you read it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on A Woman Is No Man. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!