Three generations of women in a family of Palestinian immigrants to Brooklyn try to keep their culture in America. Mother-in-law Fareeda, her daughter-in-law Isra and Isra’s eldest daughter Deya all chafe at the demands of their Muslim faith and strict Arab culture. Fareeda also remembers the expulsion of her family from her childhood home and being forced into a squalid refugee camp. Isra comes to America to marry Adam and then endures the trauma of birthing only daughters. The pressure for a son is almost too much. Meanwhile, the men of the family seem to have freedom. But do they? American born Deya has reached the age for an arranged marriage, but she wants to go to college. Her desire for an education will uncover many secrets.
This is at once a typical rags-to-riches American immigrant story just without the cultural assimilation of the old fashioned ones, while also being a coming-of-age story of each of the women as she comes to terms with her life (no spoilers). In the 1980s I knew several Palestinians and other refugees. This story rings true to their experiences. That validation helped me to really lose myself in the stories of each woman.
I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling, but oh my did it work well here! I admit, listening to the audio and driving I occasionally had to run it back to see what year we were in, but I really liked it. The punch! [No spoilers].
I enjoyed getting to know these women. I could just imagine how overwhelming it was having to live only for the men, almost exclusively in the house, never fulfilling and dreams or goals beyond finishing the laundry or going to bed with no dirty dishes in the sink while outside your front door women are living independent, free lives, with no worries of family honor or reputation holding them back. That had to be suffocating.
The story was yet another family story so real I had to remind myself I was reading a novel. That it was another debut that seemed to come from a very seasoned author was another nice surprise.
I look forward to more books from this author.
4 full stars
A Woman is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum
Thank you to blogger Sarah’s Bookshelves for making me aware of this book.