A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum
Published by Harper, 5th March 2019
Genres: Historical fiction
Trigger warnings: domestic violence, arranged marriage
Eighteen-year-old Deya has grown up in a strict conservative Arab household in Brooklyn. She is expected to follow tradition and so her grandparents are organising for her to meet with suitors. Although she is set on going to university and not getting married yet, she doesn’t have a choice. Women, and young women, in particular, do not have a voice and must do what is expected of them.
Deya’s mother faced a similar fate when she was married to her father as a teenager and moved to America from Palestine to join his family. Is history set to repeat itself for yet another generation of young women? Deya’s parents died in a car accident when she was a child, so she has nobody to stand up for her. Maybe a mysterious, but somewhat familiar, stranger will be able to shed some light on the past and help Deya see that she does in fact have choices.
This was a very interesting and thought-provoking read and came highly recommended. It did not disappoint as there were many things I enjoyed about this book, although it is not an easy read.
I particularly enjoyed the switching of perspectives and timelines. Certain chapters are focused on Deya and take place in the present. Others are centred on Deya’s mother Isra or her grandmother Fareeda during various moments in their own lives. The constant switching allows the reader to better understand each character, their point of view and feelings.
This brings me to another point, the focus on the women throughout the book. In an extremely male-centric culture, it is very interesting to shed some light on the women’s plight. That being said, some of the worst repression of women actually stems from other women. For example, the pressure to provide a male child is felt far more strongly by Isra from her mother-in-law, rather than her husband or any other man in the family. And it is the women who ultimately shame her when she gives birth to a daughter.
I love a book about books and the vital role of books is central to this narrative. Many of the women have turned to reading as an escape from the torment or drudgery of their lives.
“Books have always kept me company when I felt most alone”
However, the love of books is a double-edged sword. Reading shows these women a glimpse of a world to which they do not, and may never, have access. Beautiful love stories will only serve to highlight the lack of love in one’s life, stories of empowered women will only accentuate one’s powerlessness and tales of distant lands will be torture when you cannot even leave the house unaccompanied.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am so glad that I picked this one as part of my Reading Women Challenge 2020.
My rating: 4/5