“No matter how many books you’ve read, how many tales you know, believe me: no one has ever told you a story like this one.”
It is 1990, in Palestine. Isra is crouched over a book, fascinated by stories of people she will never know, and places she will never go. She is in love with the stories of love, and dreams about experiencing her own story like it. Since Isra was a little girl, she has been prepared for the role of a wife. She knows her place. She knows her voice is not meant to be heard, her needs are not meant to be fulfilled. She merely exists to please everyone, her purpose is obedience – and yet, she dreams. She dreams of a companion that will sweep her off her feet, a husband like the ones in the books she reads. At 18, she knows her time with her family is now limited, and it is time. The day arrives: she has a suitor, an American Palestinian family. The family comes into her home and she serves them tea, while she stares at the floor, and they stare at her. Her father accepts the proposal on her behalf, without asking her if she wishes to do so. Isra begins wondering if life in America will be better, more bearable. She hopes her voice might be heard, that she might be seen. She packs her things, full of hope, and moves across the world to live with this stranger, named Adam, and his family. Isra arrives at her new home and waits. Wait for the love she wants, but never comes. Waits for her voice to be heard, instead of silenced. Waits for a son, when she continues to have daughters. Waits for an escape, from the life she was forced to have. She waits, and prays for a better life for the girls she calls her own.
It Is 2008, in Brooklyn. Deya is crouched over a book, fascinated by stories of people she will never know, and places she will never go. She reads books of characters with more courage than she will ever have, and hopes to be like them some day. You see, Deya is an Arab girl, as she has been reminded of all her life. While she yearns for a life full of adventure and love, she has been told what it means to be a woman from the day she was born. She is constantly reminded what her duties are: marry and bear children. Obey your husband. Keep your pain private. Stay quiet, and act happy. Her destiny is one she cannot control, because she is a woman. So she will do what all of the other women in her family did, what her sisters will do. She will marry a stranger, and stay confined in the walls of her home. Deya really wants to go to college, and live a life worth something more than that. She doesn’t have many memories of her mother, Isra, and all she can remember about her is how sad she was. She remembers hearing the sounds of her mother crying as her father shouted. She remembers the screams. Deya begins to wonder if she can write her own destiny, the way men do. Why must she settle for a life like this? While Deya struggles a violent fight inside of her heart, a new door is miraculously opened. She has been told lies about who she is her whole life. She begins to realise that she doesn’t have to settle for this life that has been written for her. Maybe her destiny is something she has never experienced before. Maybe it is “Deya.” Light.
A Woman Is No Man is a miraculous story that has touched my heart deeply. It’s alternating storylines between Isra and Deya kept me on my toes, and it was very interesting to read the perspective of Fareeda, the grandmother of Deya, who was pressuring her to get married and live a life like hers. Fareeda lived a very unhappy and difficult life, and she had the chance to break the cycle and give her granddaughters a different life. Reading her perspective helped me understand the strength of the culture and tradition in the family, and why it was so difficult for her to change. I have read many books that attempted to explain the Middle-Eastern culture and the role that has been unrightfully placed on women, despite what Islam says, but I have never read a book like this. It has been written with so much truth. As a Pakistani woman, I finally felt seen, heard. I felt understood. While I may have been silent about my pain, the author was able to do something very brave: tell the truth. It is said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you, and that is true for many women like me who carry a burden like this. After reading this, I feel that burden lighten, and I have to thank Etaf Rum for that.
Khalid Hosseini has always taken the spot reserved for my favourite writer. Now Etaf Rum takes the spot for the second.