Book review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Title: A Woman is No Man

Author: Etaf Rum

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper

Publication date: 5th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


“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 honour, 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.

My review:

“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 opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me.”

A Woman is No Man explores the controversies and hardships in Muslim women’s lives spanning three generations and two continents. The contrast between the two timelines is surprisingly negligible as the differences between Isra’s life in the Palestine and her daughter Deya’s life in New York 18 years later are not so conflicting as one would imagine. Although Isra hoped for change and the possibility to voice her desires, she discovers soon after her marriage and move to New York that little has changed from her life in Palestine. This is a running theme which becomes more sombre as the story line develops and I had to stop reading at several particularly harrowing moments which were too difficult to endure.

I was completely taken aback at some of the scenes. The mere fact that thousands of women across the world still live without even thinking about the possibility of breaking their traditions and dreaming of lives different to those of their ancestors was too much. It was poignant and distressing how each woman ultimately yearned for the same basic needs in life despite growing up in different places. Some were more determined to stick to their traditions than others but they all wished for freedom of speech and respect.

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

The characters in A Woman is No Man were all extremely well developed and it was easy to form a bond with each of them. By the end I found myself sympathising with Fareeda, wishing that Isra could escape in search for a better life and hoping that Deya would follow her dreams. The ending hit hard and left me numb and for a long time afterwards I struggled to concentrate on any other book. It was a perfect representation of these women’s struggles and painfully illustrated how precious and fragile life is.

Beautifully told with passion and care, A Woman is No Man captured my attention from the first word and left me experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions until the end. I am sure that this book has touched many readers and can only hope with this review that I encourage more people to read it.

“It took more than one woman to do things differently. It took a world of them.”

14 thoughts on “Book review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jennifer ❤ I completely agree with you and I don't think I will forget it either. Glad to see that I wasn't the only one this book had such a strong effect on!


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