One of our recommended books for 2020 is A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A WOMAN IS NO MAN

A Novel


In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man 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.

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In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man 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.

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  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • February 2020
  • 368 Pages
  • 9780062699770

Buy the Book

$16.99

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About Etaf Rum

Etaf Rum is the author of A Woman Is No Man, credit Angela BlankenshipEtaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by Palestinian immigrants. She lives in North Carolina with her two children. Rum also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans. A Woman is No Man is her first novel.

Praise

A New York Times Bestseller
A Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick
An Indie Next Pick • A Book of the Month Club Selection • A B&N Discover Pick • An Amazon Book of the Month 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

“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.” Refinery 29

“A dauntless exploration of the pathology of silence, an attempt to unsnarl the dark knot of history, culture, fear and trauma that can render conservative Arab-American women so visibly invisible…. The triumph of Rum’s novel is that she refuses to measure her women against anything but their own hearts and histories…. Both a love letter to storytelling and a careful object lesson in its power.” — Beejay Silcox, New York Times Book Review

“Through well-developed characters and a wonderfully paced narrative, [Rum] exposes the impact that the embedded patriarchy of some cultures can have on women while showing more broadly how years of shame, secrets, and betrayal can burden families across generations no matter what the cultural or religious affiliation. Highly recommended.” Library Journal, starred review

Discussion Questions

1. Why might a community or culture have a “code of silence”? What are the potential risks of such secrecy? In what ways is such silence harmful to Isra and other women and girls?

2. Beyond the literal, what does it mean for a person to have a voice? Why is it important to health and safety? What are the various forces that silence Isra’s voice?

3. Why are books so important to Isra, Sarah, and Deya? What makes the reading of books so threatening to Isra’s mother, Fareeda and the men in the novel?

4. In the frustrated words of Isra’s mother, “What does love have to do with marriage?” What is the purpose of arranged, loveless marriages? Why would her mother accuse Isra of being a sharmouta because she wanted to fall in love?

5. Isra is taught from an early age that, “Obedience [is] the only path to love.” What does this mean? Why is obedience important in a society? When does obedience become oppressive or dangerous?

6. When Isra first meets Adam, he vehemently claims: “I am free.” To what extent is this true or not? What forces limit personal freedom? What is a healthy balance of personal freedom and obligation to family or community?

7. Why does Fareeda believe that, “Preserving our culture is what’s most important,” despite the suffering it brings to the women and girls in the family? What, more specifically, does she believe must be preserved?

8. In what different ways do Isra, Deya, Sarah, Adam, Fareeda, and Khaled assimilate to American culture? Which acts of assimilation from their children and grandchildren are acceptable to Khaled and Fareeda? Which are not? What does this reveal about their values?

9. Throughout the novel, men are forgiven for committing zina, for drinking, sexual infidelity, and violence toward women. How is this explained and justified? What is the source of this double standard that contradicts even the Quran?

10. Isra’s suffers the profound shaming of her daughter and of herself for giving birth to only girls. Why are girls and women thought to be of such little value in her family and culture? What vast effects do these ideas have on girls as they grow up? What can be done to resist such psychological and physical harm?

11. Of what value is Isra’s writing of letters to her mother that she never sends?