Book Review: ‘A Woman Is No Man’ by Etaf Rum

Book Review: 'A Woman Is No Man' by Etaf Rum by Abdul Hadi Haleemah on ZenPens
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Sometimes you read a book and have no idea where to start because your emotions are all over the place, right? In a word—wow! This book was an emotional ride from the start to finish as I savored it.

No matter what culture, religion, country, race is, the most important thing is not to lose your humanity. As you read the book, the leading male characters are all losing their humanity and choosing abuse as an excuse of their religion.

A Woman Is No Man is not just a riveting story of the trials of immigration, but a powerful look at the continuation of a culture of socio-economic sexual dimorphism that treats males as rightful being and females as second-class citizens at best, breeding-stock or slaves at worst.

The story is shared through the voices of three generations of women told using two timelines—Isra Hadid, Deya Ra’Ad who is Isra’s daughter, and Fareedah Ra’Ad who is Isra’ mother-in-law and mother of Adam, Isra’s husband. It’s a family saga and a historical fiction.

Isra who was raised in Palestine succumbed to an arranged marriage with a Palestinian American, already a quiet woman Isra becomes even more withdrawn as she is subjected to relentless criticism, denigration, soul-crushing loneliness, and even physical abuse. Deya is on a journey to unravel some truths, and harsh realities of her family. Fareedah; she is someone you start off hating but end up sympathising for, turns out she is a helpless woman of bitter experiences and Sarah who fought in her own way wanting a change in her future.

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. The book offers a variety of views regarding whether one abides by cultural expectations or fights against them. To fight alone is difficult and dangerous. As the book states, “It took more than one woman to do things differently, it took a world of them.” It also exposes the difficulty of trying to fit into two cultures, often resulting in fitting into neither, creating an existential loneliness.

One other overriding theme in this novel that I enjoyed most is the love of “reading” shared by three of the main characters. Through books, they were able to temporarily escape their fears of frustrations while also learning to understand a world which they are sheltered from. The books untimely serve as an escape hatch, leading them into a world of self determination.

The writing is beautiful, completely engaging, and it begs thoughtfulness. I won’t lie to you I was captivated by the title.

Moreso, what’s a woman’s life worth? and if you had to endure a life where dreams were almost unobtainable, would you still dare to dream?

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