A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum [in Booklist]
“No matter how many books you’ve read, no one has ever told you a story like this one.” The prologue’s emphathic statement is not exactly accurate. Tara Westover’s Educated (2018) and Anouk Markovits’ I Am Forbidden (2012) feature women trapped by religion and culture who break free to claim their own lives. First-time novelist Rum’s setting, however, is rare: a Brooklyn Palestinian enclave in which reputation matters above all else.
In 1990, 17-year-old Isra becomes Adam’s wife-by-arrangement, leaving Birzeit, Palestine, for New York. Her mother-in-law, Fareeda, rules the multi-generational home, ensuring that Isra serves and honors. By 2008, Isra and Adam are dead, and Fareeda is pressuring their 18-year-old daughter, Deya, to repeat the cycle of early marriage and motherhood. Determined to escape her mother’s fate, Deya discovers an unlikely ally and struggles to save herself and her family.
The daughter of Brooklyn Palestinian immigrants, Rum was often told “a woman is no man.” Overcoming her fear of community reprisal, she alchemizes that limiting warning into a celebration of “the strength and power of our women.”