Three generations of women weigh family duty and desire in a conservative Palestinian community in Brooklyn.
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BOTM Editorial Team
Before I tell you about this book, I have to tell you a little about its author. Etaf Rum is one of the most thoughtful, dedicated #bookstagrammers in the game. For a few years now, she’s been sharing great literature on her Instagram feed, @booksandbeans, and tirelessly advocating for up-and-coming authors. When I found out she was writing a book of her own, I was pleased for her. And when I read it and found it to be really, really good, I was completely elated.
A Woman Is No Man is a dual story of two women tied by blood. Isra is a young mother who finds herself in an abusive arranged marriage far from her home country, Palestine. Years later, Deya, her daughter, is a teenager growing up in modern-day Brooklyn. Though their upbringings differ, Deya finds herself facing the same life her mother, who died under murky circumstances, was forced to endure: an arranged marriage to a stranger and a life devoid of her own ambitions.
This is one of those family sagas you’ll read in one sitting without coming up for air. Between navigating the conservative forces swirling within their households and upholding the family’s honor, Isra and Deya struggle to stay true to themselves—and Rum’s portrayal of their feats and flaws is masterful. A Woman Is No Man is a revelation. I’m thrilled to join the chorus of readers shouting this book to the rafters.
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.