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Evil Eye


Evil Eye

Bestselling and critically acclaimed author Etaf Rum, whose debut, A WOMAN IS NO MAN, was one of the first “Read with Jenna” Today Show Book Club picks, returns with EVIL EYE. This latest novel is a moving meditation on the lives of Palestinian-American women, both in America and in their homeland, the meaning of a fulfilling life, and the weight of generational trauma.

In the first entry of her journal, Yara Murad writes, “[My therapist] says that writing can transform the unspeakable into a story. Only I don’t want to tell a story, I want to break free.” Yara is unwillingly attending free therapy at the university where she teaches and handles promotional graphic design following an outburst directed at one of her racist colleagues. But her boss and her therapist do not, and cannot, know that this is not the first time she has acted out like this. Whatever darkness she has been fostering inside of her for longer than she can remember seems to be growing worse, and she cannot figure out why.

"Perfect for book clubs, EVIL EYE cements Etaf Rum’s position as one of the leading writers of literary fiction that transcends continents and histories."

Raised in Brooklyn by Palestinian refugees, Yara has always carried the weight of her family’s trauma. Initially as the first-generation child to be born and raised in Amreeka, blind to the obstacles and horrors witnessed by her parents in refugee camps. Then as the only daughter to her conservative, overbearing parents. And now as the wife to Fadi, a wonderful man she is proud to call her best friend, but who falls back more than he realizes on his parents’ beliefs.

Still, Yara knows that she has it better than every other woman in her family line who came before her. She was raised in a land of freedom, she was allowed to go to school and even attend college, and she is more or less an equal to her husband. Sure, she is expected to make dinner and care for their two daughters, but she is also encouraged to work and continue her hobby of painting. Yet for the last several months, she finds herself growing more and more discontent. An artist at heart, Yara has always found words inadequate, so she cannot put a name to the sadness burrowing inside of her, or the rage that seems to boil up at the most inopportune moments.

When we meet Yara, she has just learned that the college where she works has put out a call for faculty and staff to chaperone students on a 12-day spring cruise through the Norwegian fjords. A lover of art whose favorite painting, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, resides in Norway, Yara knows that this is the trip of her dreams. But when she discusses the application with her colleagues, one of them --- a proud feminist, no less --- suggests that she shouldn’t pursue this opportunity so she can be home for her kids. Meanwhile, Fadi laughs it off, wondering how he could possibly “babysit” his own children for 12 days and what people would think about her as a mother if she abandoned her family to wander about an exotic city. Does Yara live the full, free life she dreamed of as a child, or has she merely traded one prison for another, albeit with more freedoms?

However, this is an oversimplification of the contradictions Yara is facing. The root of it lies much farther back than she is willing to consider --- not just in her dysfunctional childhood home, but also in Palestine, where her mother and grandmother once dreamed of the freedoms she now has. Although she is reluctant and downright resistant to revisit either of these pasts, it soon becomes apparent that doing so is the only way she truly will be free --- not just by doing what she wants or working where she wants, but by finally shedding the stories, horrors and traumas of her family line…and the curse that her mother fought desperately to escape.

I missed out on the pleasure of reading A WOMAN IS NO MAN when it first released to rave reviews. So when I learned that Rum had written a second book, I knew I would not make the same mistake again, but I fear I have made a new one: I don’t know how another novel will live up to the beauty, grace and nuance of EVIL EYE. Rum is a skilled, generous and cadenced writer. While she is not the first to unpack the ways in which first-generation children of immigrants grapple with the weight of newfound freedom and generational fear, she does so with a complexity and nuance that makes every interaction feel fresh and unexpectedly powerful. She neither condescends to nor alienates her readers, instead finding that perfect middle ground that will appeal to both Western/American readers who have limited dealings with Palestinian stories and first-generation readers who will see themselves and their families in Yara and hers.

Perfect for book clubs, EVIL EYE cements Etaf Rum’s position as one of the leading writers of literary fiction that transcends continents and histories. It also does the immeasurable service of educating and reaching readers of all ages, backgrounds and genders about the intersections between feminism and culture, the power of living a fulfilling life, and the freedom that comes with shedding the stories of authors in favor of crafting your own.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 9, 2023

Evil Eye
by Etaf Rum

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062987909
  • ISBN-13: 9780062987907