Three generations of Palestinian-American women in contemporary Brooklyn are torn by individual desire, educational ambitions, a devastating tragedy, and the strict mores of traditional Arab culture. 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. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. It 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. -- Provided by publisher.
The book opens in Palestine as Isra is being married off to a Palestinian man living in America. Then the story moves to Brooklyn for the remainder of the novel. I was pulled into the story from the first few pages. The story alternates in perspective – Isra, the main character; Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law; and Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter. Following cultural expectations, Deya’s mother was forced to marry and now Deya’s grandparents are trying to force marriage upon Deya, but Deya wants to go to college instead. Deya has been raised to believe that her parents died in a car accident, but into her life comes a stranger who is the catalyst for the collapse of the house of lies Deya has grown up in.
I was so immersed in the story that I could feel the frustration and hopelessness these women felt. The heartbreak when Isra’s mother tells her that love has nothing to do with marriage. The futility when Isra found that life was no better for her in America and that, indeed, Marriage had nothing to do with love. Rum also wrote about the cultural expectations that are placed on the men which often leads them to feeling trapped and taking their frustrations out on the women. Deya even turned to her Islamic studies, looking for an explanation, and was told that “When we accept that heaven lies underneath the feet of a woman, we are more respectful of women everywhere. That is how we are told to treat women in the Quran.” The clash of culture and religion.
I loved how Isra, Sarah, and Deya all found comfort and temporary escape in books. They found hope that they could change their lives.
“She’d been raised to think that love was something only a man could give her. For many years she had believed that if a woman was good enough, obedient enough, she might be worthy of a man’s love. But now, reading her books, she was beginning to find a different kind of love, A love that came from inside her, one she felt when she was all alone, reading by the window. And through this love, she was beginning to believe, for the first time in her life, that maybe, just maybe, she was worthy.” (Isn’t that beautifully written?)
Caution: There are scenes of domestic abuse that may disturb some. This kind of abuse can be found in any culture, now just the culture portrayed in this novel. Portions are very difficult to read, but others are a stunning portrait of hope. If you enjoyed “A Thousand Splendid Suns” you must read this book. Both books featured women who were abused yet proved themselves stronger, smarter, and braver than their men. Yes, indeed, “a woman is no man”. Like “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, this book is sure to linger in your thoughts.
I would like to have given this book a 5-star rating but the ending seemed a bit off, leaving me trying to piece it together. I think you will understand if you read it, and I do hope you will. Overall, it is a superb novel.
I received an early copy of this novel. All opinions are my own.
A culture, where a man is allowed to do anything, where a woman is just a possession, everything she has or does is at the mercy of a man. The worst thing a woman can do is bring shame on her family.
Isra is someone whose hopes and fears, tug at the heartstrings. Wanting more, she must settle for less. Her eldest daughter will take on the challenge of being allowed to make ones own decisions. So the story alternates between the two, with an occasional chapter narrated by Fareeda, Isras mother in law. We learn all three of their stories.
Isra's plight drew me in, her daughters made me hopeful. I finished this, looked around at my pile of books and thought how luck i was that no one stopped me from reading. So lucky. This was at times a very emotionally draining story, but I think a necessary one. A look inside what is for many a life of darkness. This let's a little light in, by making us aware of what goes on inside some of these closed cultures.
ARC by Harper Collins.
I adored the theme throughout the novel that books can be life changing.
The novel focuses on three generations of women. Fareeda, her daughter Sarah, her daughter-in-law Isra and Isra's daughter Deya are the main characters. The responsibilities of these Arab women, their sense of duty, their acceptance of their fate, their sense of shame are clearly and beautifully presented. It's impossible not to feel great empathy while also being unable to comprehend their lives.
In 1990, Isra, a young Palestinian girl, is chosen as a bride for Fareeda's son Adam and moves into the family home in Bay Ridge, where she gives birth to four girls and is constantly physically and emotionally abused. Adam, as eldest son, works endless hours to support multiple family businesses and takes out his misery on Isra. In an intense depression, she believes herself to be possessed by a jinn.
In 2008, with her parents Isra and Adam both dead, eldest daughter Deya finds out the truth about her mother's life and wrestles with her own fate. Can she be the change agent for herself, her sisters, and her grandmother Fareeda, still anchored by her own self-loathing and complicity in the abuse?
The author grew up in Bay Ridge and her abhorrence of the treatment of women in the Arab culture here and in Palestine is unmistakable. An American reader may be challenged to sympathize with her outrage without being too judgmental about the traditions of a different culture, but this level of mistreatment can never be excused or supported. This is a most powerful indictment, well told by a writer on a mission.
Quote: “Isra was seized to confess, at last, the fear that circled her brain in endless loops: that she would do the same thing to her daughters that Mama had done to her. That she would force them to repeat her life.”