2019 releases · fiction

Isolation, an Oppressive Culture and Three Generations of Women: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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I first saw this book on Edelweiss and I was immediately drawn in by the title – I think it’s a very telling and fitting title. And then I saw Max from Well Done Books talk about it on his Instagram and that alongside the fact that this is a story that follows three generations of Palestinian women in America got me very interested to read this one. And I am so glad I did, because this was a great debut.

The center of A Woman is No Man is Isra, whose arranged marriage to Adam has her leaving Palestine to go live in Brooklyn, New York with her new family. Years later, we follow Deya, her daughter as her grandmother is starting to pressure her to meet men and pick one to get married to. We get those two perspectives and we also follow Deya’s grandmother, Fareeda, as she is remembering Isra and dealing with Deya and also coming to terms with her life and the consequences of her own actions.

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I really loved Isra as a main character. I could relate to her and feel for her and I was constantly rooting for her. While we do get a lot from the other two women, Isra remains the pillar of this novel and I almost felt like both Deya and Fareeda were there to tell Isra’s story and had a purpose to portray her in two very different lights. I loved the contrast between the image of Isra that Deya has, which is of her quiet and sad mother, and then the image of her that Fareeda has, which is of an unassuming, meek, and weak woman. And in the center of it is Isra herself, who is depressed and suffering and living in awful conditions and still trying to push through and failing at that.

I was especially drawn to Fareeda’s chapters for a number of reasons. We don’t get her POV in the first part of the book, so we see her as this incredibly traditional and often mean woman, who is at times really awful to Isra and who is forcing Deya, her granddaughter to marry and is not letting her go to college. So she is really unlikable at first, but then in the second part of the novel, we see the perspective shift and we get to know her and her reasoning and while some of the stuff she does cannot be justified, it was fascinating to see this other side of her, this fighter and this person who had to adapt to survive.

I really think that the contrast between these women and how their stories tied into each other was really well done.

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I also really enjoyed the themes of this novel and I think the author managed to explore them exceptionally well. Isra is a victim of the way her culture treats women and the author explores how a traditional, patriarchal society asserts itself onto the lives of women and how detrimental that can be for said women. I found her story to be heartbreaking and I was really moved by it. The author managed to portray her depression and her mental health struggles really well. And I really enjoyed how we saw Fareeda who learned to adapt to said culture and who in the end did nothing to contradict it, but we also saw Deya who was starting to rebel and we also saw Isra who just could not adapt and deal with it. I think that was really well done, and it was raw and I think it gave a lot of nuance to the story.

I also feel like the theme of isolation that Isra constantly felt was so well done. She was completely alone. She came to a country that she did not know, to live with people that she did not know and the theme of isolation and loneliness was a constant in the novel and again, I feel like the way it was explored related to each of the three women was so nuanced and differential and I really liked that as well.

ontopofthatI do think that the narrative and the writing could have used some work. This was very obviously a debut. At times this felt repetitive and it had some pacing issues. I think that it wasn’t as structurally and as narratively tight as I wanted it to be. But that still did not lessen my enjoyment of the novel, and I do think that there were some beautiful and really poignant moments in the writing itself, so it has a lot of potential, it just wasn’t as coherent as it could have been in this one.

verdictWhile this wasn’t as narratively tight as it could have been, this book is a fantastic debut that looks at the lives of Palestinian women and I think it explored the issues and themes it set out to explore brilliantly. I highly recommend this one!

4

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I hope you enjoyed the review and let me know if you have heard of this one before and if you have plans to read it! I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Thank you to Harper and Edelweiss for providing me with a review copy. All opinions stated are my own.

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5 thoughts on “Isolation, an Oppressive Culture and Three Generations of Women: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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