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. Most compelling to me was the character of Isra, who moved to Brooklyn from Palestine as a teenager as part of an arranged marriage. She thinks she’ll be freer and happier in America, and that she might even grow to love her new husband. She soon learns that even in America, her powerlessness is reinforced and that her destiny might never be in her own hands, just because she is a woman. But when the novel is told through Isra’s daughter Deya’s point of view, you’ll see that finding your voice in a controlling, limiting culture takes an immense amount of bravery.
The novel deals with intense subjects like domestic abuse and mental illness, and it’s important to remember while reading the book that this is just one family’s consequences of silencing women, not a symptom of an entire culture. A Woman Is No Man captivated me so much that I canceled plans so I could keep reading and even missed my subway stop while buried in the book, which I haven’t done in years. It’s shocking to remember that this is Rum’s first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she delivers next. –Ciera Velarde