A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is a heart wrenching contemporary novel. It is set in 1990 moving forwards, and 2008, exploring the role of women in today’s society.
The role of women is further complicated by the fact that we are looking at a mother and her daughter who are both Arab and American and struggling to find where they belong. Their unique cultures are at war with each other. “She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures.” Their mother/grandmother wants them to remain true to their heritage but the women want something more.
“Marriage, motherhood – that is a woman’s only worth.” This is a horrifying sentence to the modern reader. Women are worth so much more but criticised for aiming higher in the book. The result is frustration for both the reader and the characters.
A woman’s worth is linked to her husband. He can do as he likes with her, she is his property. If he wants to abuse her, it’s okay so long as she disguises the bruises with make-up. There are some truly shocking to read scenes. The abuse is sanctioned traditionally by both males and females.
Females are seen as second class citizens. They are mainly good for carrying sons but are pitied if they produce daughters. “She had given him three daughters… She didn’t deserve his love. She wasn’t worthy.”
The characters are all well drawn and the lead characters are easy to empathise with. Etaf Rum has produced a fabulous debut novel highlighting the tensions for women as they try to escape their traditional roles. “The world hurts less when you aren’t hoping.” This has to be one of the saddest utterances. Without hope we die inside.
A Woman Is No Man is a powerful read. It is a narrative that needs to be told. It is heart breaking. It is realistic. And it is a necessary read. Thank you Etaf Rum for such a fantastic story.
I received this book for free. A favourable review was not required and all views expressed are my own.