A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum (ARC Review)

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper Books (March 5, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
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 fragile community.

A Woman is No Man is tour de force - Etaf Rum has written an absolute triumph of a novel, with such heart and bravery. 
One of the first things I loved about this novel is that it is about characters that love literature. Books about books or bookish people tend to resonate, and Rum brilliantly weaves the importance of reading into the story - how it connects us to others, to understand the world, to give us hope, and ultimately so we can understand ourselves. 
Given the author's background as a child of first generation Arab immigrants, I'm bowled over by her strength in telling this story without holding back many ugly truths about her culture. Not only for fear of blowback from her community, but the fear of reinforcing existing discrimination. Through her characters, I felt as if she struck an excellent balance of exposing the realities of their existence as well as their strength and potential.
"Too often being happy means being passive or playing it safe. There's no skill required in happiness, no strength of character, nothing extraordinary. Its discontent that drives creation the most--passion, desire, defiance. Revolutions don't come from a place of happiness. If anything, I think it's sadness, or discontent at least, that's at the root of everything beautiful."
I am partial to stories with multiple narrators and the author seamlessly pivots between Deya and Isra, and sometimes Fareeda, Deya's grandmother. They are written with such authenticity and empathy, I was so invested in how their lives would unfold. I also had so much righteous anger on their behalf, on behalf of all Arab women, that I read with such a sense of urgency. The plotting was totally on point, with Rum dropping absolutely shocking details as I pieced together Isra and Fareeda's past.
"Fareeda knew her granddaughter could never understand how shame could grow and morph and swallow someone until she has no choice but to pass it along so that she wasn't forced to bear it alone."
My only critique would be that I wanted MORE. The ending felt slightly rushed and I *think* I know what happened, but it felt nebulous. This is not the kind of book that I could see having a sequel, but I really, really, really would love to read one.
Thank you so much to the folks at Harper Books for a free advance copy for review!


  1. I'm reading this one right now (only 30% in) - really liking it so far. But, I'm also horrified for what these women deal with...which I guess is the point.