A Woman Is No Man // Book Review

Hello! How are all you lovely people? Today I’m reviewing a book that I absolutely loved, and as I said in my wrap up, was the best book I read this July.

I picked this book up because it said that the characters were Palestinian, and I immediately thought “finally some Arab representation” and maybe we’ll finally get to see the Palestinian side of the story that mainstream media glosses over. So I was excited, but I was also expecting something different from this book. Suffice to say it was surprising but also heartbreaking real.

I liked only 3 of the characters (not including Deya’s sisters) and I absolutely loved to hate the rest. This story is split between 3 POVs:

We have Isra, who gets married off to Adam and moves to America with him. She is originally from Palestine, and she lives with her parents and brothers. You can already from the beginning see the misogyny, but it gets worse. Isra believes that in America she can finally have a little freedom, but lo and behold, her new family has just as strong a hold on her as her parents did. I already had a bad feeling about Adam, but then he told her to take of her hijab and I lost it. Ladies and gents, here is your reminder that women have a choice, thank you. Theres a lot of awful stuff that happens throughout the whole marriage, and we will be here from now until next year if I were to unpack it all, but I did want to talk about everyone’s reaction when Isra had children. It was expected of her to have boys, because according to everyone girls are just so awful to have, and they’re good for nothing, so naturally when Isra has 4 girls Fareeda (her mother in law) is not happy whatsoever, and calls the girls a balwa which means a burden or a problem. I’m sure we all see the issue.

The second POV is Deya. While Isra’s POV is set in the 1990s, Deya’s is set in 2008, where her grandmother is trying to marry her off too, even though she wants to go to college. She has to learn how to handle her life living in America but also holding onto Arab culture and I really appreciated that perspective. The third POV is Fareeda, where we find out a little about her past, and it’s a very interesting insight into her behavior compared to how other characters see her, and it’s also really intriguing seeing how others see Isra.

The rest of the characters are majority men who all annoyed the living daylights out of me, and who I hated with my whole heart.

I guess I already talked about the plot rather a lot, but the main idea of this book is misogyny but specifically in Arab culture. A lot of the discussion is what it means to be a woman living as part of an Arab community whether in Arab countries or in the West. I’ll talk about this a little later on in this review, but the end point is that the plot revolves a lot around misogyny that is very much prevalent in the Arab world.

The writing is immaculate. Its very rare to read a book that feels less like escapism and more like the book has come up from the pages around you. This is one of those books. To illustrate my point, here are some quotes:

Books were my armor. Everything I’d ever learned growing up, all my thoughts, dreams, goals, experiences, it all came from the books I read. It was like I went around collecting knowledge, plucking it from pages and storing it up, waiting for a chance to use it.

Aren’t you scared?
Of course I am…But whatever happens…It can’t be worse than what’s happening now…but awareness and action, she also knew, were very different things.

Sadness was like a cancer, she thought, a presence that staked it’s claim so quietly you might not even notice it until it was too late.

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 she was worthy after all.

It’s the loneliest people who love books the most…it was the opposite of loneliness, too, like there were too many people around me, forced connections, that I needed a little isolation to think on my own, to be my own person.

I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later, when I opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me.Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly.

What’s meant for you will reach you even if it’s beneath two mountains, and what’s not meant for you won’t reach you even if it’s between your two lips

This one wasn’t written by the author, its actually an Arabic proverb about destiny. The original was written by Imam Ghazali, although I may be wrong on that. I wanted to include it because the idea of destiny (or naseeb) is a pretty important part of the book.

Too often being happy means being passive or playing it safe. There’s no skill required in happiness, no strength of character, nothing extraordinary. Its discontent that drives creation the most–passion, desire, defiance. Revolutions don’t come from a place of happiness. If anything, I think it’s sadness, or discontent at least, that’s at the root of everything beautiful.

I think the pacing was perfect, it focused enough on the main issues and the story without overworking it all. I know it might seem a little slow for some people, but personally I think it was really good.

Enjoy doesn’t seem like the right word, but I did love reading it. I’m not going to say everyone should read it, because I don’t think its for everyone, and I can only imagine the sorts of things a racist would say about Arabs after reading this book, but I do think that its such an important book in terms of people feeling represented and just reading a book about characters living very real existences. Overall I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t wait to reread it eventually.

5 thoughts on “A Woman Is No Man // Book Review

  1. Great review! I recently read a book with similar themes based on an Iranian family, so I feel like picking this one up too. Really curious about the differences and similarities between the books and how the authors chose to tackle these very real life issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Ooh which book is that? I’ve also read a few book based on the same themes by Tahereh Mafi, and they’re really interesting to compare and see how the authors speak about issues in their community, Etaf Rum being Palestinian and Tahereh Mafi being Iranian

      Liked by 1 person

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