A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum

I will admit, it makes me a little nervous to review a book that a) has been popular and critically acclaimed, b) promotes gender equality and c) (most importantly) is about a culture with which I have very little to no connection. So I step into my thoughts very cautiously.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN grabbed my attention very quickly and did not let go. Some reviewers have commented they thought it was repetitive, but I think the repetitivity was a significant part of the overall story. Two common phrases came to mind while reading this book: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon his children’ which is the biblical version of ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

Short review: I enjoyed the book and felt invested in each of the characters.

The longer version of my review involves a fair bit of cynicism (or is that discernment?) In general, any time I read a book that seems to rail against religious belief, I tend to wonder if the author is simply angry with the people involved in her particular religious story. Could the abuse in this book have happened in any familial situation? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. We see this generational abuse evident in other cultures as well. But certainly, the Arab community has the reputation of patriarchal dominance and female submission – at any cost. This cyclical abuse is not something that is just portrayed in movies, but we have heard the testimony of it from many who have emerged from its conservative stronghold.

I am certain that many Arab women can identify with the stories of the women we are introduced to in this book. Isra, Fareeda, Deya and Sara lived in the same way their mothers did – in Palestine and even after immigrating to Brooklyn. Many of their customs are based in the pursuit of family cohesiveness. But many are also driven by pride and the protection of community reputation. In A WOMAN IS NO MAN, physical abuse of women is widely sanctioned for generation upon generation. It seems to be an accepted aspect of life for females – another responsibility like ironing, cooking, caring for their children and the occasional beating from their spouse. The yearnings of the female characters to want more for their life and the lives of their children, eventually led to freedom for some. Others, to a deeper understanding.

I would hate for readers to come away from this book with a distaste for the Quran or any form of organized religion and cultural traditions. Mostly, I would regret that any reader walk away with the idea that the traditional family structure is not enough to satisfy some women. And yet I also want to honor the inherent struggles of ancient customs and cyclical abuse. Overall, I hope a curiosity is raised in readers that would encourage us all to research further into what it means to be a Palestinian Muslim woman and or an immigrant from the old country, asking ourselves, Is this one woman’s story or does it mirror many Arab-American stories?

This felt like a quick read and one in which I was engaged to the point of thinking about the characters throughout the day. I applaud all authors that can foster that kind of relationship between reader and character. The book’s ending seemed abrupt. I was left with many questions about what happened after and did they survive. But that’s the point of a good story, right? Do we need to know all the answers? Is our imagination given the freedom to finish the story as we would hope to see it end? I commend Etaf Rum for championing women and allowing the reader to peek inside an unfamiliar world.

I’m glad these stories are a part of my understanding now. They have widened my worldview. I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that you read it as one author’s tale and not a collective assumption that all Arab-American families are the same. Rum will take you gently into a world you may know very little about. Let your curiosity guide you throughout the book and even more so after closing the back cover.

THE WATERGATE GIRL by Jill Wine-Banks

I’m really excited about this book. Honestly, Watergate was *around* when I was a kid, but I was too young to understand it. I just knew adults were talking about it – when it happened and years afterwards. ⠀

Jill Wine-Banks was an assistant prosecutor during the Watergate hearings. Her house was burgled, her phones were tapped, and even her office garbage was rifled through as she worked on some of the most important prosecutions of high-ranking White House officials. This book is her perspective of a monumental time in American history. ⠀

Thank you, Henry Holt Books, for this gifted copy. I am thrilled to get started!

The French Open

I am ALWAYS thrilled when I receive a book to be reviewed before it’s released to the public. I feel like I’ve received a huge gift every time and I am immensely grateful.

But sometimes the publishers do it up extra. Such was the case with this book. Opening this package was a Parisian delight…

Honestly, while opening this special package I realized all the Corona stress was just under the surface for me because I immediately teared up at the special care and beauty the publisher took to promote this book. Thank you, Atria Books. It was a wonderful relief to see beauty in the midst of so much uncertainty.

The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, (releases in June 2020) is one of my favorite themes: a book about the love of books. During World War II in Paris, librarians joined the Resistance armed with the best weapons they had: the truth found nestled in the pages of a book.

The main character, Odile, is a librarian at the American Library in Paris in 1939 as the Nazis march in. Risking her life and her library, she makes difficult decisions that will redirect her life.

Years later, in 1983, she befriends a lonely teenager in small-town Montana over their shared love of language and a dark secret that connects them both.

Atria Books included macarons from Epicerie Boulud in New York City. What a lovely touch.

I am excited to learn more about this significant battle being waged within World War II and the heroic librarians who paved the way.

Thank you, again, Atria Books, for bringing delight to your readers and an extra-needed moment of clarity to me, during an uneasy time in the world.

Ode to the DNF

As readers, we’ve all experienced the mental pros and cons list we automatically go to when facing a potential DNF (Do No Finish.) It took me quite a few years into adulthood before I would actually NOT finish a book. Finally I reached the point when I realized my time and comfort level was worth more than my commitment to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying or was about topics that made me uneasy. Even still, it takes quite a bit for me to lay a book aside. Many times it’s the pure curiosity of wondering how it ends that keeps my plowing through. 

This book is a Potential DNF as I haven’t 100% made up my mind yet about it. You can see where my book tab is. I’m not quite halfway through. I’ve enjoyed the topic (although a little overdone in the past few years, it feels like. Girl spy during one of the early wars.) I liked this character and it’s based on a real person. 

But it came to a dramatic stop recently when an event in the book was more than I could swallow. It was rough. At the very least, I needed to step away from the book for a bit. I’ve read two light-hearted books since putting a pause on this one. Maybe those lighter reads will buoy me enough to step back into the dark world that this book is currently in. 

The book jumps from present to past so I’m wondering if I just skip to the next section (Part Three), if I’ll be able to catch up on the things I skipped over. The looming question, however, is will I become engrossed in it again only to have another zinger of a plot twist creep up as gross and disturbing as the one I just read??

I’ve been hesitant to use the word ‘triggering’ because I’m not sure the exact definition of it. Does it apply only if it has actually happened to you? As a mom, I am VERY sensitive to things happening to children, even mental anguish. I definitely didn’t used to be that way. I loved reading crazy, scary books as a teen. But I watched the movie Sophie’s Choice when my firstborn was 9 months old and I spent the rest of the evening sitting by his crib and crying. Seriously!, it broke me. So children being hurt – mentally or physically – is a real trigger for me. And that’s where I am in this book. I’m sure many of you have read this and it was no big deal. (The book comes out at the end of month.) But that’s the deal, right? What is triggering for one person is totally fine for another. (And if you have read this book, I’m sure you can probably guess what event stopped me dead in my tracks…)

It’s raining this week in California. Like, a lot. The days are dreary and overcast and that’s to say nothing of the whole Covid-19 situation overtaking our thoughts and moods. So for now, I’m going to stick with other books and hope I don’t forget too much of what I’ve read so far in this book. Maybe I’ll come back to it later (because it really WAS an interesting book.) Just not right now.

What items make you set down a book and not come back? What makes you say, ‘Nope!’? I’d really love to hear your experiences and what trends you see in your own reading life that make you stop and walk away.

 

Sidenote: I have purposefully not mentioned the name of the book or the author’s name, even though you can plainly see it in the picture. I don’t want any search engines to find the title and it get a bad review. I’m not giving it a bad review. Just because something bothers me, doesn’t mean it’s not a good book for anyone. In fact, it’s been an interesting and engaging book. I just need a little space from it for now. Or until it becomes a DNF.

EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG by Gabriel Bump

(Book Release date: February 4, 2020)⠀
Thank you, Algonquin Books for the honor of reading this debut novel.

As a white Midwesterner, I must say I felt a little voyeuristic peering into the world of a South Side Chicago teen as he navigated his way through life. ⠀

As I read EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG, I was repeatedly struck with how much mental fortitude can be cemented at a very early age. For some, strength and bravery are developed through strong family encouragement and societal achievements. For others, it is forged from repeated loss and boldly overcoming overwhelming obstacles.⠀

Often the media portrays life on the South Side of Chicago as either gang warfare or Michelle Obama. But where is the in-between? The place most urban Americans live? Author, Gabriel Bump takes us on a journey through the eyes of an everyday urban family living in a challenging neighborhood. He wanted his South Side readers to recognize themselves in his fictional (but true to life) story.⠀

The tempo of EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG moves at a fast clip. It’s a reading style that takes a second to get used to. But once you’re in the rhythm, good luck putting the book down. There are abrupt but brief jumps to the future weaved throughout the telling of this story of one young black man who can’t quite find his place in the world. Death and abandonment are reoccurring themes in this generational story. The sheer determination to do better boils underneath all the chaos.⠀

The time-period is predominantly during the Obama administration (a proud moment for any Chicagoan.) Change is promised but does the everyday black American see it? The main character is searching for the place where he belongs. It isn’t the civil-rights activism of his grandmother’s time but it also doesn’t seem to be in a college classroom either. He calls to question all of our individual stories of belongingness.⠀

Mixed with humor and racial integrity, EVERYWHERE will make you think, will awaken you to societies and cultures vastly different than your own, and will ultimately ask you how you find your own place in our world.⠀

This is a strong debut novel written from a place of knowing, believing and surviving.⠀