A Woman Is No Man: A Novel (Paperback)
March 2019 Indie Next List
“A Woman Is No Man gives a rare and terrifying look into the lives of three generations of Palestinian and Palestinian-American women. Readers are invited into the secret world of these women living in Palestine and then Brooklyn; we watch nervously as they try to navigate and reconcile their two worlds — the violent, patriarchal world at home and the confusing, anti-cultural world outside their front door. I cringed at the pain and cheered at the successes of the women I came to know. This beautifully written book shines a light on an important topic. It is a story that must be told and, as importantly, must be heard.”
— Debra Barrett, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Chatham, MA
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • A Washington Post 10 Books to Read in March • A Marie Claire Best Women’s Fiction of 2019 • A Newsweek Best Book of the Summer • A USA Today Best Book of the Week • A Washington Book Review Difficult-To-Put-Down Novel • A Refinery 29 Best Books of the Month • A Buzzfeed News 4 Books We Couldn't Put Down Last Month • An Electric Lit 20 Best Debuts of the First Half of 2019 • A The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2019
“Garnering justified comparisons to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns... Etaf Rum’s debut novel is a must-read about women mustering up the bravery to follow their inner voice.” —Refinery 29
In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect.
"Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of—dangerous, the ultimate shame.”
Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.
Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.
But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.
About the Author
Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, by Palestinian immigrants. She teaches college English literature in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. She also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans. A Woman Is No Man is her first novel.
“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…. The triumph of Rum’s novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories…. Both a love letter to storytelling and a careful object lesson in its power.”
— Beejay Silcox, New York Times Book Review
“Garnering justified comparisons to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns... Etaf Rum’s debut novel is a must-read about women mustering up the bravery to follow their inner voice.”
— Refinery 29
“A blistering exploration of three generations of Palestinian-American women, unfolding in lyrical but demanding prose.”
— David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“Rum writes of the complexities inside the lives of Arab American women. She probes the dark and the daunting as she tells the story of a Brooklyn teenager navigating the wishes of a family who want her to marry.”
— Juliana Rose Pignataro, Newsweek
“Three generations of women from a conservative Arab family living in America are at the core of Etaf Rum’s riveting debut novel. From the very first line, Rum brings you into the hearts and minds of these characters, and you’ll stay connected to them well beyond finishing the last page.”
— Ciera Velarde, Buzzfeed News
“Explores themes of cultural expectations and taboos, family tragedy and the immigrants’ story, all from the perspective of an author whose life experience bears many similarities. [Also] how women who are limited by societal norms can make their own unique contributions to society and be ‘equal if not greater than men.’”
— Nick Meyer, Arab American News
“A story of how a woman can break taboos and break free from patriarchal misogynistic families. This mesmerizing novel will take all your attention from the very beginning.”
— Washington Book Review
“Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man is a shattering, revelatory tale of immigration, womanhood, and the cyclical impact of violence and oppression. In her unflinching story of both loss and hope, strewn with enthralling, vibrant characters, Rum has accomplished the extraordinary: a tale that bridges the domestic and the global, memory and future, the old world and the new. A spectacular debut.”
— Hala Alyan, author of SALT HOUSES
“A Woman Is No Man, bold as a drumbeat, banishes the repressive silence that haunts Isra and her spirited daughter, Deya. This tender tale of women soldiering through a barbed world is a clarion call and a work of literary bravery.”
— Nadia Hashimi, author of THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL and A HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS
“[A] brave debut [that] underscore[s] the economic and political challenges that contribute to the victimization of women…. Throughout this heart breaking yet inspiring novel, reading, the forbidden pleasure, offers an alternative sense of community and a safe place for dreams. In that tradition, ‘A Woman Is No Man’ contributes its own gratifying and immensely healing salve.”
— Al Jidad
“A richly detailed and emotionally charged debut.”
“First-time novelist Rum’s setting… is rare: a Brooklyn Palestinian enclave in which reputation matters above all else…. 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.’”
“A gripping portrait of three generations of Palestinian women whose narratives are heartfelt and unsettling. Rum writes with tender sensibility, creating characters with layers of complexity and depth. She gives these women what they most desire and deserve: a voice.”
— Frances de Pontes Peebles, author of THE AIR YOU BREATHE and THE SEAMSTRESS
“Through well-developed characters and a wonderfully paced narrative, [Rum] 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.”
— Library Journal, starred review