A Woman is No Man

“…the last suitor who had drawn his marriage proposal…he had told her grandparents that she was too insolent, too questioning, she wasn’t Arab enough. But what had her grandparents expected when they came to this country? That their children and grandchildren would be fully Arab, too? That their culture would remain untouched? It wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t Arab enough. She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures. She was neither Arab nor American. She belonged nowhere. She didn’t know who she was.”

This story hit me hard. I expected it to be good, but it was so much more than that. It was…a beautiful piece of literature that outlines the life of a Palestinian girl, Deya, age 18, being forced into an arranged marriage.

In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

The book starts out with Deya’s mother, Isra, being given off in marriage to Adam. Soon after, the story shifts to Deya in the same position, meeting suitors, who, one after the other, reject their marriage proposals. Deya wants to go to college, but her tita, Fareeda, refuses to let her go. That’s not what good women do, and no man wants to marry a college girl, after all, she says. A woman’s role is to marry, have children, and take care of their families. Deya’s grandmother wants to continue living their Arab culture in Brooklyn and is doing the best she can to raise Deya and her three sisters.

God help any woman who has to raise a daughter in America.

As we start off with Deya’s story, we get the sense her baba wasn’t the best husband or parent, and was abusive to her mother. And her parents lived in sorrow in their marriage to each other. But Deya was young when her parents died, only 7, and her three younger sisters remember even less of their parents than Deya does. All she knows is that her tita said she is not to mention her baba in their house, and that her parents died in a car accident. Deya never went to the funeral, as her tita said it was held in Palestine.

Then, Deya sees a strange, yet familiar, woman standing in front of her house and who leaves a white envelope on the front steps of her house, addressed to her.

Inside the envelope is a business card with just three words: “Books and Beans. 800 Broadway, New York, NY. On the back, it says ‘Ask for manager.'” Deya tries to picture the woman’s face but all she can see is her mother’s. Deya starts to wonder.

What follows next is part cultural study, character study, drama, and mystery.

A Woman is No Man is gripping. The story is heartwrenching. Haunting and compelling, I read most of it in one sitting. You will feel angry, hopeless at the lives of these women, where culture and shame dictate how they lived, or not lived, their lives. All they know is shame and family honor. They carry burdens and they break under those burdens.

This was a glimpse into a part of Arab culture that is at once, foreign and familiar to me. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a good story about the lives of women in a Palestinian familiar, in the ’90s, living both in and out of America.

8 thoughts on “A Woman is No Man

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