[A] heartrending debut novel that will likely be a book club favorite ... In an open letter to readers, Rum has said that while writing this story, she fought her own apprehension about breaking the code of silence that surrounds the Palestinian immigrant community, as well as her fear of adding to stereotypes against it. Luckily for readers, she chose authenticity over caution. The result is a raw, sympathetic look into a world where parents order girls in their teens to marry against their will, a woman who helps her daughter-in-law with a newborn is considered too soft-hearted, and spousal rape and abuse are blamed on the victims who are shamed into silence ... However, the picture is not without hope or light ... Crafted with thoughtfulness and empathy, A Woman Is No Man celebrates resilience and the courage required to speak out against an unjust way of life.
One of the challenges that Rum tackles is speaking openly about the brutal treatment of these women ... Rum was herself in an arranged marriage, and this personal experience imbues her narrative voice with authority and authenticity. Still, a potential concern for Arab authors writing for an American audience is how to portray Arab patriarchy within a Western milieu of Islamophobic and anti-Arab stereotypes. The book tells us that these men are broken — by the occupation, by hardship, by bigotry — but what readers see, for the most part, is their assault on women ... while Rum’s female characters have complexity and dimension, her male characters tend to lead their lives offstage, buried in work, and their humanity feels more elusive ... A Woman Is No Man complicates and deepens the Arab American story — a tale as rich and varied as America itself.
Through well-developed characters and a wonderfully paced narrative, she exposes the impact that the embedded patriarchy of some cultures can have on women while showing more broadly how years of shame, secrets, and betrayal can burden families across generations no matter what the cultural or religious affiliation. Highly recommended.