August 28, 2023

Evil Eye

By Etaf Rum
Review by
Just like A Woman Is No Man, Evil Eye has the power to reach readers of all ages and cultures, who will undoubtedly cheer Yara on as she forges a new path.
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Yara is a young wife, mother of two girls, a teacher and graphic designer at a North Carolina college, and one day she comes to a startling conclusion: “Everything in her life had been a succession of things that she hadn’t really wanted to do.” Following her bestselling 2019 debut, A Woman Is No Man, Etaf Rum returns with an introspective second novel, Evil Eye. Both books tell universally appealing, tightly focused stories about Palestinian American women and explore multigenerational issues of inherited trauma, misogyny, the difficulty of balancing career and motherhood, and what makes a fulfilling marriage and a well-lived life.

The daughter of extraordinarily protective Palestinian immigrants, Yara had a sheltered childhood in Brooklyn and often watched longingly through a window as her brothers were allowed to do whatever they pleased. Now, living in a North Carolina college town with her workaholic husband, Yara realizes she still doesn’t have the freedom she has long craved—to travel, be creative and shape her own life. In the art class that she teaches, she bristles at expectations to “center whiteness as the custodian of high art.” No, Yara thinks, “she had not worked this hard over the years—rushing through her degrees while raising two kids and maintaining a home and standing up to her mother-in-law and trying to succeed in a world that did not value her contributions—so she could stand in front of a classroom and perpetrate the very injustices that had colored her entire life.”

“I’m a sheltered artist who grew up in a sheltered world, so I can’t escape the fact that some of the novel is autobiographical.” Read our interview with Etaf Rum.

Yara is a volcano waiting to explode, and she finally does, calling out a colleague on their racism in an incredibly well-told scene. There’s immediate fallout, with Yara put on probation and assigned to receive therapy. Rum excels at writing internal dialogue and keeping readers immersed in Yara’s fight for freedom, friendship and, ultimately, a purpose in life. Though resistant to her forced therapy, Yara eventually begins journaling at her therapist’s suggestion, and she finds herself carefully examining not only her life but that of her mother and beloved grandmother, Teti, giving readers an intriguing glimpse of how trauma, aspirations and cultural expectations have shaped each woman, and how political events have ongoing personal ramifications for legions of Palestinian and Palestinian American families.

Rum’s observations about the intersections of Arab and Southern traditions and their similarities in art, history, media and food are particularly strong. Yara gradually befriends a gay man, Silas, who lends support as she slowly but boldly becomes the person she yearns to be. Just like A Woman Is No Man, Evil Eye has the power to reach readers of all ages and cultures, who will undoubtedly cheer Yara on as she forges a new path.

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Evil Eye

Evil Eye

By Etaf Rum
ISBN 9780062987907

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