10 August, 2021

[Review] A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Release Date: 5 March, 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Adult Fiction/Contemporary/Literary
ISBN: 9780062699763
Edition: Audiobook (also available in Hardback and eBook)
Rating:★☆☆☆☆ (1.5)
Review Written: 27 July, 2021
Warnings: Domestic abuse, Rape, Emotional abuse, Physical abuse, Misogyny, Sexism, Suicidal thoughts, Toxic relationship, Violence, Alcoholism, Death of parent, Murder, Sexual assault, Suicide, Child abuse, Death, Sexual violence, Grief, Child death, Mental illness, Miscarriage, Abortion, Religious bigotry, Confinement, Self harm, Pregnancy, Xenophobia, Blood, Suicide attempt, Ableism, Body shaming, Bullying, Hate crime, Infertility, Panic attacks/disorders, Racial slurs, Racism, Sexual content, Slavery, Islamophobia, Medical trauma, Gaslighting
This debut novel by an Arab-American voice,takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.

In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

See more by Etaf Rum on her goodreads page.I picked this book up as a read from the #OwnVoices category on one of my libraries Overdrive section. I wasn't really certain what I was getting into when picking it up, but I can say I am highly disappointed in the results.

The story focuses on 3 generations of Palestinian-American women, two who are first generation (Isra and her mother-in-law Faridah) and one who is second generation (Deya). For much of the story, we are cycled between Deya and Isra's points of view, following Isra's engagement and marriage at the age of 17 to Adam (who was 10 years her senior at the time) and the immediate push for her to get pregnant. Though Isra hoped for a better life in America (not that she wanted to go in the first place), she found herself trapped in the same cycle as the women back in Palestine.

Isra endures pregnancy after pregnancy, having 3 children in quick succession while suffering from untreated PPD and the cultural shame of having girls. Not, that it's her fault that she's having girls, but most blame is placed upon her. She also has almost no help at home, and between her mother-in-law leaving a large amount of the housework to her and her husband never home (or being drunk when he is), Isra is isolated except for her friendship with Sara, Faridah's youngest child and supposedly only girl.

Deya mean while was informed at 7 that her parents died in a car crash, but she never really believed that. Now the cycle is repeating as Faridah attempts to find a match for Deya, pushing for marriage over college. Deya, frustrated by her grandmother's attitude and perplexed by a mysterious note left on the front steps, begins looking into her parents more. She meets her long estranged Aunt Sara, who shamed the family by running away from home. Worlds collide when Deya finally learns the truth: Her father beat her mother to death in a rage and then committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.

The book ends with Deya going to college, though it's questionable how well she's broken the cycle given her grandparents are still focused on marriage. We're also left with Isra trying to leave with her daughters only to meet Adam. It's a vague ending for a book that continually plays on the persistent tropes within Arab American literature.

Perusing the reviews on Goodreads, I feel that perhaps this book had a good idea in it's original state, however it became very repetitive very quickly. Many of Isra's chapters had her brewing tea, reading books, and struggling. Deya's were much of her yelling about not wanting to be married. Perhaps the most interesting chapters in the book were from Faridah, giving hints into how she suffered from the cycle of marrying young.

Overall, I believe there are probably better books out there if you want to learn more about the Arab-American Community.

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