Etaf Rum

Cindy Seip

Palestinian American author Etaf Rum has said that she “never studied creative writing, and A Woman Is No Man was the first piece of fiction [she] ever wrote.” In her impressive debut novel, Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their desires within the confines of their Arab culture. A 17-year-old, living in Palestine, finds herself quickly betrothed and married off and, soon after, living in Brooklyn. Eighteen years later, that woman’s oldest daughter wants to go to college not be married. But her grandmother insists. Fate has a will of its own, however. 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.

In her review for The New York Times, Beejay Silcox called A Woman Is No Man “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.”