A review by kait_sixcrowsbooks
A Woman Is No Man, by Etaf Rum

dark mysterious sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? N/A
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


  • Palestinian/Palestinian-American cast
  • written by a Palestinian-American

DNF @ p. 166

I understood what the author was trying to convey, but in the end...it did not work for me. So much so that I ended up DNFing about halfway through. To me, there's two big problems, the first being how the themes in the book are conveyed. It isn't...subtle? At all? I lost count of how many times something along the lines of "that isn't a woman's place" or "a woman isn't a man" is said throughout the book. It just kept repeating over and over, and it ended up just being tedious. We understand that the women in this story are trapped and/or helpless and aren't valued as they should be. That doesn't need repeating twice every chapter. On top of that, I felt like the other issues (alcoholism, domestic violence, generational trauma, and the like) kinda fell on the wayside? Weren't explored very much? Granted, they could be explored more in the latter half of the book, but what I got from the first half wasn't a ton. What I especially didn't like was the assumption that trauma only breeds more trauma (in terms of domestic violence) and that all Arab men were just stuck in that cycle forever, as if they couldn't be changed or change themselves in order to create a better future.

And the other thing that seemed off to me while I was reading was that...it seems like the book was written with the white gaze/audience in mind? Like, all Arab women are stuck in unloving relationship, all Arab girls are placed into arranged marriages that are ultimately full of domestic violence, rape, and hatred for one another, all Arab men are alcoholics and can't work through their own trauma in a healthy way, that's just the way things are. And like. I'm not saying these things don't happen or that they aren't problems that need to be addressed, but the majority of the characters in the novel, if not all of them, say "Oh, that's just how it is." in response to any of this. I dunno, just the way I read it, it seems to really other Arab folks in the eyes of non-Arab people, as if to say, "Well, at least we aren't that bad." and to further solidify stereotypes people have of the Arab community. And, as an extension, the Muslim community since Islam also seemed to play a large role in the characters' lives, and many non-Arab folks tend to conflate the two.

And to have these two issues clash together -- the non-nuance  and blatant repetition of the themes and the appeal to the white gaze/audience -- just made for a real bad reading experience. I think if there was more nuance, I would have been able to fight my way through it, but what I've read? Nah, it definitely wasn't for me.

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