A Woman Is No Man

- Etaf Rum


This debut novel by an Arab-American voice,takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women 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.



I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York.


solid, good read:

This a tragic story of a Palestinian-American family and the fate of their women. It’s a voice and a point of view that is lacking in the books I’ve read in the past. I found it harrowing and brutally unforgivingly honest in its portrayal of the value of women and trying to escape our upbringing. It tells a story of how deeply ingrained cultural and societal rules warp the truly black and white, right and wrong, and force us to accept less than we deserve just because that is how things are done.

So many times in this story Fareeda is painted as the villain, and many of the things she does are truly villainous. However, when we are given a peek behind the curtain and get some chapters from her point of view, it is easy to see how quickly she changes from villain to another victim. Many times we see her starting down the right path, questioning her reaction and her actions, but in the end, she is almost always overwhelmed by how she was raised and her culture and what she sees around her in her community.

Mama sighed. “Soon you’ll learn that there no room for love in a woman’s life. There’s only one thing you’ll need, and that’s sabr, patience.”

Isra is so naive and hopeful and unloved, her story is truly devastating. She spends so many years just wanting someone to love her. Neglected and beaten as a child because she is a girl and then married off to a stranger and forced to move across the world to a country where she barely speaks the language. She is so hopeful that as long as she does everything right, does her best to please Adam and his family, they will love and accept her. Everything that goes wrong for her, that keeps them from loving her, is so out of her control. She accepts what she believes she deserves because she has never been treated like anything of worth. All because she is a woman. And when she realises that her daughters will face the same fate, it’s almost too much to bear.

Deya, Isra’s daughter, struggles to understand her place in the world as the daughter of immigrants. Born and raised in the United States, she’s not truly American. But when Fareeda starts arranging meetings with boys to arrange her marriage before she’s graduated from high school, she’s forced to figure out her place in the world and what that means not only for herself but for her family and her culture.

Three generations of women, raised in different times and places, but with the same values. Their voices and stories came together to tell a familiar story from a new perspective, for me at least. I thoroughly enjoyed this heartbreaking, incredibly devastating story. In order to move forward as a society and a community, we must face and overcome our ingrained values and shared histories.

Fareeda closed her eyes and breathed. Something inside her shifted, as if her whole life she had been looking in the wrong direction, not seeing the precise moment that turned everything upside down. She saw the chain of shame passed from one woman to the next so clearly now, saw her place in the cycle so vividly. She sighed. It was cruel, this life. But a woman could only do so much.


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