I just finished this novel, and it was intense. It hurts to read. It hurts to imagine. And it hurts in moments where it is relatable, despite my culture and privilege differences from the characters.
Etaf tells a story of women’s obligation and pain through the lens of culture, specifically a Palestinian lens. A culture in which women’s lives are proscribed from birth to death.
The prologue begins:
I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later, when I opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me. Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly. But we will never tell you this, of course. Where I come from, we’ve learned to conceal our condition. We’ve been taught to silence ourselves, that our silence will save us. It is only now, many years later, that I know this to be false. Only now, as I write this story, do I feel my voice coming.
Three generations of Palestinian women in America struggle with silence and expectation. Know that this silence is enforced again and again by violence and shaming by people who ostensibly should love them.
It is written in the style where different chapters are focused on different characters in different times, and it weaves together a story that is not understood completely until the end.
It is deeply sad and hard and a bit hopeful.