A Woman Is No Man

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Mary Angelou

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” ~ Audre Lorde

I chose this book back in February with my Book of The Month subscription and just picked it up earlier this week. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. This is the story of three women from Palestine. Two of them forced into marriage at a young age as their culture dictates and the third facing the same fate.

Fareeda is the matriarch of the Ra’ad family. Forced to marry Kahleed at an early age in a refugee camp in Palestine, she and her family that she has devoted her life to now live in Brooklyn New York. When it comes time to find a wife for her eldest son Adam the family travels back to Palestine and find Isra.

Isra comes from a a conservative family in Palestine and is hopeful she will find more freedom in America than in the Country of her birth. Soon she realizes that while in a different Country, the customs that dictate daily life are still followed. She is expected to stay home and raise children. She gives Adam four daughters instead of the sons the family expects. She is bullied by her mother-in-law and only finds solace in the books her sister-in-law secretly lends to her.

Deya is the teenage daughter of Isra and Adam. She and her three younger sisters live with their grandparents in Brooklyn after the death of their parents. In her senior year of High School Deya finds herself presented with suitor after suitor as her grandmother desperately seeks to find a husband for her. Deya is faced with the impossible decision of following in the footsteps of the women before her, or take a stand and demand a different life for herself.

This is a hauntingly powerful novel of what can happens when women are suppressed and ultimately silenced. They can suffer from abuse both physical and emotional, more prone to depression with no way to reach out for help. The women in this novel are isolated and told from childhood that the sum total of what they can expect is what they have in this life already; and so the cycle continues from one generation to the next. Even Adam’s character is a victim in his own way in this novel. He must give up his own goals and dreams to help support his family and watches as his younger brothers are sent to college with the money he earns for the family. He is faced with the dissatisfaction of his mother that his wife has given birth to four daughters and no sons and is constantly being told he has to get his wife (a woman he has no emotional connection too) pregnant again and again. All in the name of family duty as the eldest son. Is in any wonder that he breaks under that kind of pressure?

This novel brings home the reason why its so important women have access to higher education and not forced into arranged marriages as teenagers. Traditions are important, just not at the expense of an individual’s peace of mind and happiness.

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