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A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Contemporary fiction

A Woman Is No Man


Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to A Woman Is No Man!


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Etaf Rum, on your first book!

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by Etaf Rum

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Quick take

Three generations of women weigh family duty and desire in a conservative Palestinian community in Brooklyn.

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  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist


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  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama


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.

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A Woman Is No Man

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. Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly. But we will never tell you this, of course. Where I come from, we’ve learned to conceal our condition. We’ve been taught to silence ourselves, that our silence will save us. It is only now, many years later, that I know this to be false. Only now, as I write this story, do I feel my voice coming.

You’ve never heard this story before. No matter how many books you’ve read, how many tales you know, believe me: no one has ever told you a story like this one. Where I come from, 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. Take a walk in New York City on a sunny afternoon. Walk down the length of Manhattan until the streets become curved and tangled as they are in the Old World. Go east, over the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan’s skyline thinning behind you. There will be a heavy traffic jam on the other side. Hail a yellow cab and ride it down Flatbush Avenue, that central artery of south Brooklyn. You’ll go south on Third Avenue, where the buildings are smaller—only three, four stories high, with old faces. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge hovers on the horizon like a giant gull, wings spread, the sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline a distant mirage.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (22,032)

  • Chelsey N.

    San Marcos, CA

    W ❤️ W ! ! ! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Absolutely loved this read. Captivated me from the beginning and I couldn’t put it down. Etaf, thank you for being a voice of your culture. Look forward to more of your work

  • Natalie A.

    Camarillo, CA

    Although the book made me sad, angry, and heartbroken, the story was well written. I enjoyed losing myself in the pov of mother, daughter-in-law and grand daughter. ⚠️ Domestic abuse ⚠️ Sexual abuse

  • KEELY H.

    Colorado Springs, CO

    I haven’t connected to a book the way I connect to ‘A Woman is No Man’ since I was in middle school. It’s been weeks since I finished it, and I’m still in that Brooklyn basement with Deya and Isra.

  • Tess M.

    Republic, MO

    This is my favorite book of 2019 so far. I couldn’t put it down. I chose it because it’s about a culture I know nothing about, and I’m glad I read it. I can’t stop thinking about it. Go get this book!

  • Dorela S.

    Shelby Twp, MI

    I knew I loved this book when I constantly thought about it. I kept thinking “Rum, you need to make it better, you need to fix this anger I’m feeling!” It’s truly a powerful book that makes you feel.

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