When Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man was shown as an option for the February Book of the Month, I didn’t hesitate to select it. The description of her debut novel ticked a lot of boxes for me. Rum takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America and leaves us gasping for air.
The novel is the story of three generations of Palestinian women — Deya, who is 18 and begrudgingly beginning to look for suitors; her mother, Isra, who desperately wants to find love, ultimately leaving her family in Palestine to marry a man living in Brooklyn; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law, who pressures Isra to bear sons and Deya to find a husband, even though both women want more for their lives than what is traditionally expected of them.
Joanne Ramos’ novel The Farm comes out on May 7, and I’m so excited that I was able to get an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley. Golden Oaks Farm, or the titular “Farm,” is a blissful paradise where women live during pregnancy to ensure they they deliver the healthiest baby in the safest environment. For nine months, the women are pampered with spa treatments, custom menus, and the best medical care. But these women are not allowed to leave the grounds, and they not even allows to keep the babies they carry.
These women are “hosts,” chosen and paid for by super-wealthy patrons who can’t or won’t have their babies themselves. For the hosts — mostly immigrants, becoming a surrogate opens up a world of possibility, but it’s not always an easy choice. Jane, a Filipina host, makes the decision to be able to better support her family, a daughter of her own and an elderly cousin, Ate. But it also means she will be leaving her newborn behind so she can bring someone else’s into the world.
The majority of the novel is exactly what the title describes, or as one character puts it, “just women talking.” Eight Mennonite women sit in a hayloft to discuss a series of sustained attacks on the females in their closed community. The women have learned that men within their own community drugged and attacked the women in their sleep, and they must decide how best to protect themselves and their daughters moving forward.
When I went to the library recently, the brightly colored cover of Allie Rowbottom’s Jell-O Girls caught my eye. I took it down to flip through it, and the blurbs proclaiming it as “an artfully crafted feminist excavation of an American legacy” and “an important and honest feminist history for right now” sealed the deal.
The book is part family memoir and part nonfiction. In turns, it focuses on Allie’s family history and the so-called “curse” that plagued their men — the family’s fortune earned when her great-great-great-uncle bought the patent for Jell-O for just $450 in 1899 — as well as Jell-O’s history through a feminist lense.
I don’t remember where I first heard about Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Female Persuasion, but I remember getting immediately excited and adding to my TBR on Goodreads. Even though I didn’t really like The Interestings, the description of this one seemed right up my alley. If I didn’t like it, I decided, Meg Wolitzer probably wasn’t for me. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long to read it — I was the first one to receive it when it arrived at the library on New Book Tuesday, April 3. I rushed to pick it up.
In it, Wolitzer explores feminism from the inside-out. Greer is a shy college freshman when she attends an event where Faith Frank is speaking. A prominent figure in the women’s movement for decades, Faith captivates the room. Greer, too, is inspired and decides to approach Faith, making to a connection that will shape her ideas, her career and her future.
If you visit The Hungry Bookworm often, Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks should be somewhat familiar to you. Despite my disappointment in a similar book late last year, I was super excited to read this upcoming feminist dystopia – I included it on my list of most anticipated books this year and added it as a selection in one of my reading challenges.
In Red Clocks, the United States has granted every unborn child full rights to life, liberty and property, resulting in countrywide bans on abortion, in-vitro fertilization and single parent adoption (because every child deserves to be raised by a traditional mother-father combo). Zumas explores how such laws could affect everyday women as she follows the journeys of the biographer, the mender, the wife and the daughter, with bits about a 19th century female polar explorer peppered throughout.
Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent has been on my radar since I read The Boston Girl earlier this year. Several people recommended it to me, so I bought it at my library’s used book sale in the spring. I finally got around to reading it, and though I was expecting a bit of a grueling read – it’s set in biblical times – I was pleasantly surprised.
In this piece of historical fiction, Diamant explores the life of Dinah, who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as the only daughter of Jacob (father of a dozen sons). The Red Tent starts with the story of Dinah’s mothers, the four wives of Jacob – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – and continues into her life as she grows up and leaves the land of her father.
For the most part, the lives of women are glossed over in the Bible, and this novel takes an interesting look at what life might’ve been like for a woman of that time. It gives several strong female characters a voice when the book in which Dinah first appears did not and thoughtfully portrays the unique relationships that women have with one another. It also offers a different, and dare-I-say feminist, perspective on a Christian narrative in which things may not have been exactly as depicted.
In Jacob’s camp – which is how I thought of it, as it was rambling and full of tents and animals – the family usually ate quite well. In an interview Diamant said, “There’s a lot of food in The Red Tent…To not write about food…is to not talk about women’s experience.” They depend on the land for food, and the selection seemed quite abundant. There is mention of olives, lamb, figs, pomegranates, barley, mint, and of course, honeyed cake.
Honeyed cake, in fact, was mentioned a few times, and though it was given little description, I was intrigued. I wanted to make it try it myself. After a Google search, I finally settled on a recipe from Genius Kitchen for a recipe that seemingly dripped with honey. (And drip with honey, it did!)
To start, I combined the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and some orange zest. The orange zest smelled absolutely amazing while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
In a different bowl, I creamed the butter with the sugar and then added in the four eggs, one at a time. To these ingredients, I added the dry mix, mixing just until incorporated. Then, I added the chopped walnuts.
I poured the batter into a prepared square pan and set it to bake for 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Meanwhile, I began making the honey sauce. This recipe uses quite a bit of honey, which can be expensive, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty run-of-the-mill baking ingredients. Still, we used almost half of this little honey bear.
In a saucepan, I combined 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of white sugar and ¾ cup of water. I let it simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice and bringing it to a boil. Please use a medium-sized saucepan. When it gets boiling, it can boil over easily and quickly – it’s not as easy to tame as boiling water. And it’s possible you’ll get a sticky mess all over your stove, like I happened to do. Anyway, once it was finished cooking for 2 minutes, I removed it from the heat, where it say until the cake was ready.
After the cake finished baking, I removed it from the oven and allowed it to cool for 15 minutes.
I then cut it into triangles. The original recipe recommends diamonds, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how to accomplish that. I’m not sure shape matters that much, though the more cuts, the more honey will soak through the cake. Regardless, after cutting the cake, I covered it with honey sauce. I used about a third at a time and did my best to allow it to soak in before covering it with the next third. (This requires some patience.)
I found the cake to taste a bit like Fruit Loops (probably from the orange zest). Overall, it was quite good but very sticky.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange rind. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes. Pour honey syrup over the cake.
For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.