This debut novel follows a family forced out of their home in Palestine through their lives in New York. A Woman is No Man focuses on three generations of women in the Ra’ad family: Fareeda, the matriarch; Isra, her daughter-in-law; and Deya, Isra’s eldest daughter.
We meet Isra when she is seventeen years old and living in Palestine. Her parents have arranged her marriage to a Palestinian refugee living in Brooklyn. Isra has hopes of a better life with this new family. She is an avid reader, and dreams of love and opportunity in her new life. She has seen her own parents’ loveless and violent marriage and dreams of something different for herself. She is stifled in these dreams by the expectations that come along with the entrenched cultural norms she has always lived with. Her mother-in-law is particularly harsh in her criticism of Isra, finding her to be too religiously observant, too dull-witted, too interested in reading, too quiet. Fareeda’s biggest complaint, however, is about Isra’s children. Isra has four daughters in a family and culture that prizes sons above all else.
This book is a beautifully written and devastating look in to one family. It deals in the culture clash between the family that has escaped certain death with the new country that they do not want to assimilate in to. It delves in to the role of women in rigid patriarchal societies; about reconciling love for family with love for ourselves when those two things seem completely opposed; with the overwhelming shame and helplessness of severe depression.