A Woman Is No Man

A Novel
By: Etaf Rum
Length: 10 hrs and 15 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,251 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller

A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick 

New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • Washington Post 10 Books to Read in March • Marie Claire Best Women’s Fiction of 2019 • Washington Book Review Difficult-To-Put-Down Novel • The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2019 • A USA Today Best Book of the Week • An Elaine Newton - Summer Reading List Critic’s Choice • A Girls Night In Book Club Pick

“I couldn't put it down.  I was obsessed with figuring out the mystery of this family." (Jenna Bush Hager, Today Show Book Club Pick) 

Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the strict mores of Arab culture in this powerful debut - a heart-wrenching story of love, intrigue, courage, and betrayal that will resonate with women from all backgrounds, giving voice to the silenced and agency to the oppressed.

"Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of - dangerous, the ultimate shame.”

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 naive 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.

©2019 Etaf Rum (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Three female narrators work together in this Palestinian family epic.... Listeners will become enmeshed in the overlapping ambitions of these fascinating women." (AudioFile)

“Sometimes heroism is loud and dramatic. Other times, it is daring to listen to that quiet voice within and having the courage to follow it. In this story, we see inside the lives of three generations of Palestinian women living in America, struggling and suffering to hear that voice. Etaf Rum has done a great service by sharing these voices with us.” (Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times best-selling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son

“Garnering justified comparisons to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns... Etaf Rum’s debut novel is a must-read about women mustering up the bravery to follow their inner voice.” (Refinery29)

What listeners say about A Woman Is No Man

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  • Overall
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Powerful and Terrifying

"Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status" -World Health Organization

Every single one of these criteria apply to the three generations of women in this book. I know it is fiction and I know it is not representative of the entire Palestinian diaspora, but this story was terrifying. That this no doubt really happens, and happens in all of our communities both makes me furious and breaks my heart.
I highly recommend the audio version of this book. The three narrators, for Isra, Deya, and Fareeda, really highlight the differences between these characters. I listened at double speed because certain scenes were so tense and I had to know what happened.

This is not a light, fun read, but it is a powerful one that feels important for those fighting for the rights of all girls to get an education and live free from domestic violence.

16 people found this helpful

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Inside a Different Culture

It takes a long time to tell this simple story, yet I found it intriguing thanks to the deep dive inside this culture. It covers three generations of a Palestinian family in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I was shocked to learn how insular the women are, enslaved by their men and customs that originated a thousand years ago. Most lives are proscribed by early marriage, multiple babies, cooking, cleaning, and an occasional beating by a husband. Hopefully through education and the loosening of strictures, more Arab women can claim agency and enter the twenty-first century.

There were many descriptions of the women preparing food. I wondered if the print version had a glossary or even recipes. Many of the items sounded delicious!

10 people found this helpful

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Best book of the year (so far)

This year has been the year of returns where I have given in after 20 minutes. This came and my heart was opened. This book should be read in school and in families. It is a story guaranteed to change you.

18 people found this helpful

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Spellbinding Story! OK narrations

This story drew me in. It was a very interesting look in on the life of women living a domestic life. This is not to highlight the stereotypes of being mistreated in the Arab community, but to help spread the word liberate women living lifes of domesticity everywhere. Narration could have been better. Arab words were all pronounced incorrectly especially the names. It's not Ezra it's Issrah. It would have been better with a more traditional Arabic pronunciations. But overall compelling story!

5 people found this helpful

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Heartbreaking

A very grim story of the lives of Arab women who are married off young and are treated as chattel by their fathers and husbands. And, sadly, by their mothers as well. The redundancy and deadly boredom of the lives of these women are reflected by the redundancy and boredom of the language used to write the book. It is an eye-opening perspective of the lives of millions of women and girls in this world. And it is not happy.

4 people found this helpful

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By far one of the best books I’ve ever listened to!!

So beautifully written and articulated. This story weighs heavy on my heart because I know how raw and close to home it is! I recommend this book for everyone regardless of race or gender . Hearing the perspective of the characters and their background is so crucial to understanding someone .

4 people found this helpful

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Fantastic!

I could not stop listening to this book. It was heart wrenching and eye opening. I highly recommend this book to all women to read. How lucky we are to live our lives with so many freedoms. How horrible to think about women who do not share these freedoms. I will think about this book for a long time.

4 people found this helpful

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Heart wrenching, can't put it down story.

Loved it! Narrators really brought the characters and the story alive! Highly recommend this book.

4 people found this helpful

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Outstanding!

A look inside what could be any family, any culture, any religion any marriage and all the reasons why we must educate and evolve as a society.

3 people found this helpful

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Brooklyn Girl.

loved it! Culture seems to often trump common sense. Wome are wonderful and strong. Insight into Palestinian cultural norms regarding women in general. Irregardless of where they live.

7 people found this helpful