In a powerful 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 that is both culturally specific and one that resonates with the universal female experiences of silencing and shame.
Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. It 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.
This is such a heartfelt story that needs to be heard. We are so excited to share a wonderful letter from the author.
When I started writing A Woman Is No Man, I was constantly swallowed by fear. Telling this story meant challenging many long-held beliefs in my community and violating our code of silence. I thought, Who am I to say this? Who am I to tell this story? Surely I’ll only upset people and fuel further discrimination against a community that’s already stereotyped by a single story. It would be the ultimate shame.
Most of all I was afraid of disappointing my community if I didn’t filter my own experiences. I knew that as long as I stayed away from controversial topics like arranged marriages and domestic abuse, no one would criticize me or call me a traitor. No one would shun me. No one would try to hurt me. Perhaps these fears are why there aren’t many Arab-American women on bookshelves, why, whenever I search for our stories in bookstores and libraries, I cannot find them.
But censoring myself out of fear would have resulted in a story that didn’t reflect the realities of my world. A story that carefully nudged problems and discriminations aside so as not to upset anyone. A story that was filtered, safe, uncontroversial. But most of all, a story with a voice that was inauthentic.
In my many moments of fear and uncertainty while writing this book, I searched for inspiration from brave women like Maya Angelou and Malala Yousafzai and Audre Lorde. I pushed myself to keep writing until I finally understood Lorde when she said, “Your silence will not protect you.” It is through these women’s courage that I wrote A Woman Is No Man.
Growing up, I was taught that there were limits to what women could do in society. Whenever I expressed a desire to step outside the prescribed path of marriage and motherhood, I was reminded over and over again: a woman is no man. And yet later I realized this was also my strength: I began to see the ways the women around me were unique from men in their ability to juggle the demands of culture, family, relationships, and parenting. Though I refuse to turn away from the deeply complicated and sometimes dark aspects of traditional Arab culture, what I hope people from both inside and outside my community see when they read this novel is the strength and resiliency of our women.