Thursday, 13 March 2014

Book Review: I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

Originally published on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.

While some will have known her name before 2012, Malala Yousafzai has become a household name after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban. Malala writes a rather powerful prologue detailing what she remembers and has been told about the shooting, titled ‘The Day My World Changed’, which I read on the bus on the way to work. The gunman asks a crowded school bus “Who is Malala?”, and she is shot. Tears welled in my eyes as I read the final line of the prologue “Who is Malala? I am Malala and this is my story”, and I struggled to continue reading in such a public arena, and so recommend reading this is a more private place.

Split into five parts, I Am Malala is a well-written, insightful memoir. It is full of powerful, and often harrowing, stories. Not only does it tell the story of Malala’s early life, her family and community, and her being shot, but it also tells Pakistan and the Swat Valley’s history, her family’s new life in Birmingham, and the struggles she still meets.

Malala tells the reader of her love for her father, but a few pages later, talks of walking out in the street and seeing the bodies the Taliban have left as warnings, with notes such as “Do not touch this body until 11am or you will be next” left on them. Malala recounts a trip to Abu Dhabi and feeling as if so many men were around her, “I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid – if you are afraid you can’t move forward.”

She also is careful to remind the reader that she was not the only person shot that day, and tells how she misses her best friend Moniba. She explains that her new life is hard, “But like my mother I am lonely … The girls at school here treat me differently. People say ‘Oh, that’s Malala’ – they see my as ‘Malala, girls’ rights activist’.”

This autobiography was written with British journalist Christina Lamb. While reading this book, a friend asked how much I thought was written by Yousafzai herself. Books co-written with an author, or in this case one of the world’s leading foreign correspondents, often raises this question. However, with all the world knows about Malala Yousafzai, it’s hard to imagine she would let someone else completely write her own story.

The book is also littered with wonderful photos that give great insight in to Malala’s world; in the end, she is just a girl wanting to learn. The dedication, comprising of simple 16 words, made me stop and think hard about what I was about to read: “To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together we will be heard.”

In a move that is probably not all that surprising, in November this year, I Am Malala has been banned by Pakistani education officials from private schools. They claim the book does not show enough respect for Islam and have called her a ‘tool of the west’. The president of the Pakistani private schools association is quoted as saying “Everything about Malala is now becoming clear. To me, she is representing the west, not us.” No doubt she will have taken great offence to these comments, but then again her interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart shows how amazing she is. Definitely worth a watch.

It is hard to believe this young woman, the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year, who spent her birthday in the United Nations making one of the most powerful speeches ever to be uttered, is only 16. If this is her story up to 16 years of age, there is no doubt in the world’s view that Malala Yousafzai will change this world for the better.

I am Malala: The Girl who stood up for Education
by Malala Yousafzai
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780297870920

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