In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her fragile community.
Author: Etaf Rum | Publisher: Harper
“A real choice doesn’t have conditions. A real choice is free.”
This book blew me away. I usually like (but don’t love) generational family stories, but this was really something special. I was so drawn into the stories and lives of these characters, and my review is not going to do it justice.
There are three main characters: Isra, who is married off at 17 and swept from her home in Palestine to the home of her husband’s family in Brooklyn; Deya, her eldest daughter now living with her grandparents and three younger sisters; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother in law and Deya’s grandmother. Isra’s chapters take place beginning in 1990, from her marriage through the time when Deya is young. Deya’s chapters take place in 2008, when she is a senior in high school. And Fareeda has chapters in both timeframes, although we get less of her perspective.
There is so much wrapped up in these three women’s stories: culture, duty, gender discrimination, womanhood, manhood, domestic abuse, family, shame, immigration, racism, fear, bravery, choice, action, inaction. And probably even more.
Honestly, my eyes flew over these pages. I would read 50 pages and look up, blinking, not realizing that I’d been so absorbed. And my heart broke again and again for these women even as their strength and the complexity of their lives and decisions put me in their shoes, again and again.
I had no idea how Isra’s story was going to end; how Etaf Rum was going to close the loop. But she did it, and I didn’t even realize what she was doing until the very last page. And then it hit me, and then it ended, and wow.
Hats off, Etaf Rum. Please give us more novels.