Evil Eye is the second novel by Etaf Rum. In it, she tells the story of Yara, a Palestinian-American woman navigating culture, marriage, motherhood, identity, and meaning (in life). Of Palestinian origin, Yara was born in Brooklyn before moving to the south when she got married to Fadi.
As a young woman, Yara dreamed of travelling the world and making a path for herself. She wanted to stay single, travel the world, but as a young Arab woman, that wasn’t an option that her family would consider. So she married a man whom she thought would allow her opportunities. However, as the years go by, her life doesn’t look the way that she expects.
When Yara is forced to go to therapy, she unwittingly makes a friend and begins to question her life and her existence. In the process, she needs to face not just her relationship with herself, but in every area of her life. She needs to acknowledge and face her anger, which means uncovering a past that she’s buried deep. For the first time in her life, Yara faces herself and her history, and makes decisions independent of her family and cultural expectations.
Evil Eye is a story of trauma being passed down from one generation to the next, and one woman’s reckoning with it. Etaf Rum explores the topic of identity, superstition, patriarchy, cultural expectations, and mental health within the Palestinian American community. While some of the themes are similar to those in A Woman is No Man, such as motherhood and identity, there is also friendship. This is a story of hope.
In the beginning, we get to know Yara and her family. We see her trying so hard with everything, weekly dinners with her in-laws, teaching at a university, caring for her husband and her children. We go back in time to learn about her grandmother, and her parents through her journal. Rum reveals more of Yara’s trauma, her conflict with herself, with her family, really with the world, and her place in it.
When Yara calls a colleague racist, she loses her class and is forced to see a therapist to possibly get her job back. She doesn’t trust the therapist or anyone else, believing that problems should not be shared outside the home. When she thinks of her mother for help and advice, she believes that she is cursed and that the photos of her family that she has put online have invited jealousy. She recalls a Kahlil Gibran quote from her mother.
Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one. People ruin beautiful things.
Considering how much her mother suffered in her own marriage, her abuse, and her trauma, Yara thinks that she should be grateful for her life. When her therapist mentions that she is depressed, she thinks that she has no reason to be depressed with her kind husband, and beautiful children.
Yara begins to open up when she makes a friend at work, Simon, a gay man who befriends her and is kind to her, someone who she can relate to. However, just as she is ready to begin to trust the therapist, she’s let go at work and no longer has access to the medical resources at the university.
Yara thinks that she should be able to confide in her husband. She expects him to be her best friend. But instead, he berates her for never being satisfied and complains about her to her father. Desperate for help, afraid of what she might do to herself or her children, of passing down her “curse” to her daughters, Yara turns once again to therapy.
The Ending of Evil Eye
Through therapy and with her friends’ support, Simon and his mother, Josephine, Yara makes a plan to leave her husband. First, she explores her dream of being an artist and sells her work. Once she is convinced that she can make enough to take care of herself and her children, she moves out and gets a divorce.
Yara’s husband, although his irresponsibility at work lost him his job, was reasonable about the divorce. He agreed to joint custody of the children.
Evil Eye ends with Lara feeling better as she continues her journey of healing. One of the actions she takes is to confront her father, even though he rejects her and shows no remorse.
Yara continues to paint and hangs out with Simon regularly. After a painting class with her children, she paints her dream of living with purpose by owning a studio.
She could create a space for people to feel represented, a space that made visible the presence of people of color in the art world. Maybe that was enough.
In her journal, there is a meeting with her mother. In a rare moment of intimacy, her mother tells her, “there is so much goodness ahead”. As her mother prophesized, she is doing things better than her parents, building a life as an independent woman, and creating a legacy for her girls.
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