A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – Thoughts

Its books like these that make me thankful to be part of a global book club/book community, since I wouldn’t have even thought of picking up this book, had it not been chosen as the BOTM selection for one of my online book clubs. And I’m glad I read it.

This would be around a 4/5 stars kind of book for me, mainly because of the subject of the book (not for the meek hearted), and also the different female characters and their decisions, which according to me makes this a really good choice for a book club, since there are a lot of discussion points that come up in the book.

Trigger Warnings: Domestic violence, murder, rape

In a nutshell, the story is about Isra, a Palestinian woman (not more than 19 years I think), who grows up in Palestine, but is married off quickly and goes to America with her husband and his family. And then, it is the story of Deya, Isra’s eldest daughter, who is narrating her story in the present, and trying to find out more about her parents, especially her mother. Although it seems that the story is just about these two women, there are a few other characters who I felt had their own story going on as well, and seemed like really strong characters – my favorite being that of Fareeda – Isra’s mother in law. There is also Sarah, Isra’s sister in law, and the only rebel in the family, initially. We also have side stories of Adam, Isra’s husband and all the other men folk that she interacts with in the short span of her life.

This is the first book I’ve read about what it is to be a Palestinian woman, so I’m not sure if I can take everything written in the book as face value or as the baseline for their culture and their treatment of women. In the book, it’s simply abhorring. I’ve read many books in the past about women’s struggles in eastern countries, but usually, there is at least something good going along in the story too. Some hopeful or positive characters. But in the case of this book, it probably took me as much courage to finish it, as it did with The Handmaid’s Tale. And the worst part was, the author claims, that this is how women are treated there in reality.

The story does have a redemptive ending, but I felt it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more for the women in the story and I was left heart broken for the most part of the story. This is not a story I wanted to read during this lockdown period, but I wanted to finish and discuss it with my book club members too. At least now that its over, I can go back to being in denial and hiding behind my romances and fantasy books. Yes, Im a coward that way.

There were some really good discussion points in the book and I’ve noted a few of them here. I would be interested to know your thoughts on these questions too 🙂

  1. In one of the conversations between Sarah and Deya, Sarah comments, that people who love reading, are usually lonely, and that’s why they turn to books. I felt that was quite true in my case. What about you?
  2. In another conversation between Sarah and Deya again, Sarah says, it is easier to be happy and content. But that means, you will continue to suffer and things will never change. It takes sadness, discontent, desire, passion or anger to change things and bring a revolution – do you agree? I felt that although I agreed with the second part of her statement, I wasn’t so sure about the first one. Because I find it really hard to be happy and content.
  3. There was a really interesting discussion between Deya and one of her marriage suiters, Nasser, where they argue about destiny and having control over one’s destiny. Nasser mentions that everything is pre-destined. But Deya argues that she doesn’t believe so. Read the book to see the rest of the argument and I felt both parties had a valid point. What do you believe in? Pre-destined destiny, or a destiny that we can make for ourselves?
  4. Many times in the book, the women think, they deserve the violence and injustices committed against them. They say and think they have no choice but to accept this as the way of things, because that means they will be a part of the community at least. And community and familial pride/respect is more important and freedom and self respect – have you seen this thinking lately around you? Because I see this a lot even now in my own family.

All in all, a hard hitting and worthy book to read. But I’d like to know more Palestinian women’s views on the book and the authenticity of the treatment of women that is shown in the book – is that the norm or an exception?

5 thoughts on “A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – Thoughts

  1. Haven’t heard of this one before but it sounds like a must-read though, especially with your comparison to Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t really want to read more about women suffering but it is still reality in a lot of different places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes exactly.. I find it really disturbing to read about women’s suffering and this book was just an extreme. Especially the chapters in Isra- one of the protagonists, there’s seems to be no silver lining for her. What little she gets seems too little for a reader like me..

      If you do pick it up, I’d love to know your thoughts too🙂


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