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Book club questions for A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum discusses in-depth this story about three generations of Palestinian-American women. The book club questions for A Woman Is No Man will have spoilers so check out my spoiler-free review first.
Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.
Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.
But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.
Book Club Questions for A Woman is No Man
- We first meet Isra as a seventeen-year-old girl in Palestine. Her family is trying to marry her off, as is tradition. Yet, Isra is a lover of romantic stories and she holds out hope that despite an arranged marriage, she’ll still have love. Let’s talk about first thoughts about Isra and her hope for love.
- Isra thinks about her favorite novel One Thousand and One Nights and how the Princess Shera wanted to become human so she could marry Sindbad. On page 14, it says: “Isra didn’t understand. Why would anyone want to be a woman when she could be a bird?” What do you think Isra was truly saying here?
- We then meet Deya in 2008 Brooklyn. Her grandmother, Fareeda, is trying to force her to meet suitors so she can marry. But Deya has no interest in a forced marriage and instead wants to go to college. Why do you think that academic and professional goals are seen as a negative quality in women in this story?
- Let’s talk about Isra’s arrival to America. In what ways did it immediately become a disappointment to her?
- Fareeda is overbearing and is so consumed with the fact that Isra and Adam need to have a boy. But when Isra gives birth to a girl, Fareeda acts like Isra committed a great sin. Let’s talk about why Fareeda was so obsessed with them having a son. How did this add to the pressure of the family?
- In what ways are Fareeda and Isra’s mother similar? Why do you think Fareeda didn’t try to develop a better relationship with any of the women in the family? What was holding her back?
- Fareed’s daughter and Deya’s Aunt, Sarah, reaches out to Deya in hopes to help her not live a life like her mother Isra. It turns out Sarah ran away from home to avoid being force to marry. What did you think about Sarah and her story? Do you think she made the right choice running away from home? Do you think Isra should have joined her?
- On page 141, the curtains are pulled a bit with regards to Fareeda and Khaled’s marriage. He was a drunk and used to beat her often. It all changed when she stood up to him and said she’ll ruin his reputation unless he stops drinking. Why do you think that was a turning point for them? Why do you think she never help to intervene when she knew Adam was beating her? Why didn’t anyone intervene?
- Reading becomes an act of rebellion for Isra and Sarah. Let’s talk about how they were bonded by reading and it gave Isra a little bit of hope.
- Deya begins to slowly learn more about her parents, especially her mother. Why do you think Fareeda was trying to keep the truth about Deya’s parents a secret? Deya eventually finds out that her father murdered her mother. Let’s talk about this reveal. How did it change the family forever?
- When Isra leaves the house in the middle of the night, Khaled explodes at her but Fareeda defends her—for the first and seemingly only time. Let’s talk about the significance of this. But was it too little, too late at that point?
- The story ends with Deya finding her freedom and going to college. And Fareeda tells her that she’s changed and she wants to see Sarah again. Do you think Sarah will come back home?
- And we finally learn that Isra did try to escape with her children but it seems like Adam caught her. Let’s talk about that.
- Oftentimes in the story, the characters say they don’t feel American—even the ones born in America. Let’s talk about that.
- What does the title A Woman is No Man mean in the context of this story?
What to Read Next
A Woman is No Man is quite the thought-provoking read. Here are some other recommendations that are great fit for book clubs (Click the titles or photos to purchase from Amazon).
A Place for Us is an emotional read about a Muslim American family struggling with tradition and culture.
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?
A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.
Check out my book club discussion questions here.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a stunning novel that stays with you long after you finish the last page.
In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine―a pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives” with the hopes of curing issues like autism or infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.
Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night―trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges―as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.
Check out my book club discussion questions here.