Author Playlists

Etaf Rum’s playlist for her novel “Evil Eye”

“‘Breathe Me’ is about feeling worried and generally anxious, about being overwhelmed by your own inner dialogue and potentially doing yourself some harm, then asking for help. I listened to this song on repeat while writing Evil Eye.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Etaf Rum’s Evil Eye is an insightful and compassionate novel that spans generations and cultures.

Booklist wrote of the book:

“A deeply resonant tale of multigenerational trauma and survival.”

In her own words, here is Etaf Rum’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel Evil Eye:

“Lovely” by Billie Eilish & Khalid

If Yara Murad’s experience in Evil Eye could be captured in one song, this would be it. Billie and Khaled sing, “Thought I found a way/ thought I found a way out/ but you never go away /so I guess I gotta stay now/ Oh, I hope someday I’ll make it out of here…” To me, this song is about being mentally trapped with continuous anxiety and depression, and wanting to be free of them. The melancholy lyrics and melody capture Yara’s feelings of being stuck in feelings/spaces she doesn’t want to be in.  The words capture the inner conflict of being trapped by your own thoughts so beautifully: “Oh, I hope someday I make it out of here, even if it takes a night or a hundred years” and “Something’s on my mind, always in my headspace”. The song also reflects Yara’s tendency to get addicted to her own sadness, caving into her darkest emotions with “I guess I gotta stay now” and being addicted to the depression, calling it “lovely”.

“Elastic Heart” by Sia

This song captures the resilience of a broken heart—which in this case belongs to our protagonist, Yara, a young Palestinian American woman desperate to heal and move on from the trauma of her childhood, but failing. As the daughter of immigrants displaced from their homes during the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Yara and her ancestors have never felt safe, their trauma and sense of displacement defining their lives. This trauma has caused Yara never to know what it’s like to feel safe, her childhood home feeling like the war zone her family had left behind. But Yara is striving for a better life, both for herself and her daughters. I imagine Yara finding deep resonance with the following lyrics, and a determination to keep fighting for strength and inner peace:

“You did not break me
I’m still fighting for peace
I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart
But your blade it might be too sharp
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard
I may snap and I move fast
But you won’t see me fall apart
Cause I’ve got an elastic heart.”

“Something in the Way” by Nirvana

This song is a metaphor for the isolation and loneliness most of us feel, and I can’t help but think of Yara whenever I listen to the lyrics. The repeated refrain of “…something in the way,” sung by Cobain in a haunting vocal style, reflects Yara’s emotional turmoil in Evil Eye. Much like Cobain, Yara is seeking a way of out of her bleak situation but is held back by something blocking her way. When Cobain sings the refrain, I picture Yara, a woman whose emotions have been invalidated suppressed since childhood, who is now unable to feel her emotions, and who feels as if her heart was closed and something sat in the way of her ability to feel hope and connect with others. The song highlights Yara’s inability to unpack her trauma and swallow her emotions instead.

“What was I made For?” by Billie Eilish

Many of Yara’s question throughout Evil Eye are existential in nature and often heightened by her limitations as a woman, which has her ruminating on ‘what was she made for’. On her bad days, Yara feels so low and afraid and begins to question the meaning of life, wondering what’s the purpose if she can’t relieve the inner ache inside her, rid yourself of the voice in her head. 

“I used to float / Now I just fall down / I used to know but I’m not sure now / What I was made for,” Billie sings over a melancholy melody, articulating the character’s anxieties about losing her innocence and wondering what she’s supposed to do next. We see this as Yara breaks away from the type of woman she is expected to be and begins contemplating a different life. There is a sadness in this type of growth, and the song reflects the ways in which Yara is mourning a past version of herself and feeling unsure about the future and her purpose in life. Yara may not know how to move forward and escape her depression, but she still has hope that she’ll find her way in the end: “Think I forgot how to be happy / Something I’m not, but something I can be / Something I wait for.” 

“Matilda” by Harry Styles

The first time I heard this song was when a fan of my debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, sent me a link and told me to listen, convinced that the song was written about my protagonist, eighteen-year old Deya. I cried when I listened to the song, then played it on repeat for weeks. The song creates a space of refuge and understanding for anyone suffering from parent issues, a theme in both of my novels. To me, this song is also about friendship and listening without judgement. In Evil Eye, Silas provides Yara with this feeling of friendship and safety. Silas’ ability to learn about Yara’s past without judgement shows that he wants to support her in some way, but is also aware that it’s not his experience, which is a theme in the song. The lyrics also hold an empowering message of choosing your own life and happiness, even choosing your own family: “You can let it go/ You can throw a party full of everyone you know/ You can start a family who will always show you love/ You don’t have to be sorry, no.” 

“Breathe Me” by Sia

‘Breathe Me’ is about feeling worried and generally anxious, about being overwhelmed by your own inner dialogue and potentially doing yourself some harm, then asking for help. I listened to this song on repeat while writing Evil Eye. It helped me access Yara’s inner world more easily. It’s a sad song whose main themes center on depression and desperately wanting to have a friend to lean on. I imagine Yara using this song as a cry for help, a cry for survival. The lyrics resonate with her feelings of depression and not being good enough, as well as her feelings of worthlessness and lack of self-love. 

“Everything I Wanted” by Billie Eilish

Another Billie Eilish song, I know. But I can’t help that Billie so accurately captures the feelings of depression and anxiety that Yara struggles with in Evil Eye. This song speaks to the ways in which Yara’s current life feel like a nightmare, even though she managed to achieve what she wanted most: a life opposite than her mother’s. Billie sings, “I had a dream I got everything I wanted / Not what you’d think/ And if I’m bein’ honest/ It might’ve been a nightmare/ To anyone who might care” These lyrics reflect Yara, who has lived her life as a go-getter to the point of exhaustion, always trying to prove something to herself and her community. Throughout Evil Eye, we see that Yara has had the goal of pleasing others since childhood. She never felt heard and didn’t know how to break the cycle of overextending herself to only be left to feel even more alone.In the chorus Billie sings, “If I could change the way that you see yourself, You wouldn’t wonder why you’re here, they don’t deserve you.”These lyrics are particularly relevant since Yara is conflicted between her authentic desires as a woman and acting like the person she thinks others expect her to be, especially within her conservative Palestinian community. If only she could change the way she sees herself; this is how she will truly heal.

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The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and taught undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans and is also a Book of the Month Club Ambassador, showcasing

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