A Woman Is No Man
by Etaf Rum
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Number of pages: 336
Source: Warren Public Library
Contemporary Fiction/Historical Fiction
Read 10/3/19 to 1/7/20
In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.
First, full confession, I read this book in bits and pieces. The first half I read back in October. Before I could finish the story, I left to go out of state for over a month and this was a library book, so it got put aside. I was able to pick it back up, months later, to finally finish. This doesn’t reflect on the writing or story though. I enjoyed both.
The first few chapters sucked me in, but then things slowed down a bit for me. While I was enjoying the characters and getting to know them, there was nothing keeping me rooted in the story. This book is told from three different points of view as well as different time periods. I actually enjoyed that aspect of the story. And while I usually like shorter chapters like most of this book has, I think at the beginning portion of this story that may have been the reason I wasn’t fully invested. Likely because I wasn’t able to really get to fully know any of the characters on a deeper level until the book was about halfway done.
Oh, the parallels in this story! While each woman seemed to hate the decisions her mother made, it seems they couldn’t help but fall into the same patterns. All while thinking a woman should be able to speak up, yet never speaking up themselves. It wouldn’t be “proper”. It’s how things are done. All of the oldest reasons in the book. Each of their reasons for sticking with the status quo were valid, yet they felt their own reasons were valid while the other women’s reasons were not.
Each and every one of these characters by turns made me mad, sad, and proud. Sometimes she I felt a particular character was turning things around and finding some sort of redemption, she’d turn around and do something infuriating again.
While this is a story about the women, I couldn’t help but feel a sort of sympathy for Adam while hating him to the very marrow of my bones. He did unforgivable things, but did his parents turn him into the man he became? While the women’s burdens were far great than his, so much was expected of him while his brothers had no expectations. I would never forgive the things he did, but I can understand why he turned to drinking and drugs as an outlet
Having all these different perspectives helps the reader to see how different scenarios could play out. Those that stayed, those that left, those that spoke up. Is one way truly better than another when they all include some sort of sacrifice? An interesting question to thing about.
My book club’s take:
Unfortunately, we ended up with only three of us at book club this month. It’s the time of year for colds and flu! But I’ll add what I can from the conversation the three of us had. One of the ladies felt like she was never able to connect to any of the characters so she had a hard time getting through the book. Because there wasn’t any connection, there was no sympathy and no feeling of needing to know what happened to any of them. Admittedly, she is also a reader who is not a fan of jumping around between characters and timelines to the extent this story does. Needless to say, this wasn’t a favorite of hers.
We took a bit of time to discuss the different cultures and assimilating (or not) into the “American” culture. Be it Little Italy, Chinatown, or whatever niche areas a community may have. The pros and cons, what we understand as white middle class women. We all had slightly different views that I’m sure has to do with our ages and experiences we had with other cultures growing up. We live in an area that has one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, as well as a huge Polish population. Looking back, we didn’t discuss the book as much as we discussed the current state of cultures that are considered “other” and what that means. So, it was still a great book to start a discussion.
I’ll be posting my review of Caraval, the other book we discussed at this book club, next week. My take on the book may end up surprising some of you. As for next book club…
We will be reading The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. (We read The Handmaid’s Tale about 10 years ago and loved her writing.) We’ll be meeting on Sunday, March 22, 2020. If you read along and have any questions or comments for my book club, please let me know before that time. Otherwise, I’ll be back with my review of the book (and the thoughts of my book club) the week following our book club meeting.