[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.
... a dauntless exploration of the pathology of silence, an attempt to unsnarl the dark knot of history, culture, fear and trauma that can render conservative Arab-American women so visibly invisible ... Of Rum’s three women, it is implacable Fareeda — enforcer of norms, keeper of secrets — whose voice proves the most revelatory ... The triumph of Rum’s novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories ... Distinctly, defiantly and earnestly, A Woman Is No Man belongs to itself.
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.
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.'
Novels about the immigrant experience often turn on the psychic trauma that families endure in a new country. Etaf Rum understands that the experience can leave physical bruises, too ... heartfelt and piercing ... Rum delays multiple revelations for dramatic effect, and in the meantime, the novel can feel overstuffed with Fareeda’s repeated lecturing to both Isra and Deya about serving husbands and having sons... But the delaying is also purposeful, evoking the anxiety many families suffer about speaking up about domestic abuse.
Rum is a master storyteller who weaves agony, life and healing together into a beautifully written tale of a woman’s journey of learning that she does indeed have value. A Woman Is No Man will break your heart even as it inspires hope; it’s a book you will never forget. Read it.
In telling this compelling tale, Rum—who was born in Brooklyn to Palestinian immigrants herself—writes that she hopes readers will be moved 'by the strength and power of our women' ... A richly detailed and emotionally charged debut.
Pleasing ... Rum’s short chapters crisscross timelines with the zippy pace of a thriller, yet repetitive scenes and unwieldy dialogue deflate the narrative. Though the execution is sometimes shaky, there’s enough to make it worthwhile for fans of stories about family secrets.