Title: I Am Malala (The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban)
Author: Malala Yousafzai
Specs: 317 pages, with appendix and glossary of terms and important Pakistani historical events
Publishing Info: Little, Brown, 2013
Note: This review will read a little differently from others. Same format, but it deals more with the issues presented and less to do with the “story” itself.
Diverse Elements: Malala is a Pashtun girl from the Swat Valley of upper Pakistan, Muslim, fighting for the right to be educated and for all girls to be educated. She also is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, so there’s that too.
Summary: This book is a memoir of sorts that not only goes into her life but also Pakistani politics, from the creation of Pakistan as an independent state to its Talibanization, and Pakistani culture, much of what has to do with religion. To summarize it I’ll focus mostly on her life.
Malala was born as the oldest child in her family. Her father was a school teacher, so from a young age, she was in the world of education. Her father also never bought into the idea that only sons are to be celebrated, so he pushed for her to be strong, independent, and learned.
When she was quite young, her father opened his own school. They struggled quite a bit at the opening, but her father was not one to give up. As Malala began her own schooling, she always worked hard to be top of her class. She would also accompany her father in his duties as an organizer for schools to be given more priority.
The Taliban first gained a foothold in Pakistan in Malala’s region, apparently because Pashtun’s are different from the rest of Pakistani culture and share a hearitage with Afghanistan. It started with one man who started by preaching a return to God, and his message was peaceful, pleading with the Pashtuns to return to the holy ways, and from there led to shariat courts, beheadings, suicide bombers, etc, and of course–the dehumanization of girls and women.
Malala and her family tried to hold on, and she and her father continued to speak out against the Taliban and the government that did not fight back, and to speak out for the rights of girls to be educated. At one point, the Talib forces became so strong that the Yousafzai family became Internally Displaced Persons, but were able to return.
But as her voice grew louder, stronger, and more internationally recognized, the danger to her and her family increased. And one day, on a bus, a man shot her three times in the head then fled, leaving her for dead. What followed was a long, painful, and internationally sensitive process that ultimately led to Malala’s message of education becoming stronger, but also to her displacement from her home.
What I Liked: I really enjoyed, unlike some reviews I’d read, the portions about Pakistani politics and history. If there were another subject I would LOVE to teach, it would be just about anything Social Studies related. Her story wouldn’t make sense to American or European readers in a vacuum. Maybe some people somewhere know the ins and outs of Pakistani and Pashtun cultures, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t taught that way to me in school or to anyone I know. For example, I had no idea that Pashtun culture was a “thing.” I only vaguely remember learning about Pakistan at all and that it was broken off from India? Especially because the “War on Terror” broke out the year I graduated high school, it wasn’t until recently that I stopped thinking of Pakistan as middle eastern.
Also, it was refreshing to get some perspective on what the common people of Pakistan and the Swat Valley went through on a daily basis and I’m sure are still suffering through on some level. When the War on Terror first broke out, and Pakistan eventually wasn’t an ally but a perceived enemy, people would tell me that “all Muslims hate the West” and stuff like that. This book dispels those notions but also offers a warning–that when xenophobia is allowed to run rampant, regardless of which religious sector starts it, only evil can follow. And in that way, it seems to parallel the sweeping waves of Islamophobia rushing across our own nation, led in part and without remorse by one Mister Donald J. Trump who consistently fails to accept responsibility for what he is doing to the minds and hearts of those who need someone to follow.
What I Disliked: Portions of the book have to do with Malala’s mother, but it seemed to me that her mother’s presence was left very undeveloped. I would have enjoyed seeing a lot more of her mother in this, instead of just seeing the “uneducated, told me to wear my hijab in the market” type of stifling presence. So much of it was focused on Malala’s relationship with her father that it seemed her mother had very little influence on Malala’s life, which surely is not the actual case.
What I Loved: I probably cried fifteen times reading this. It was so real. It reminded me of watching Welcome to Sarajevo, which I forced myself to finish watching so that I would KNOW. What countries will tear themselves apart for…is shocking. There was a time when I, too, like so much of Christian America, would have advocated for a fundamentalist Christian education and social structure to be the norm. Today, I see a different way. Why spend trillions of dollars on wars and only a fraction of that on education? Without a well-rounded, humanist, arts and sciences, critical-thinking education, our world will fall back into the Dark Ages, ruled by those who claim to hear the voice of God in all their thoughts, with no power of the people at all.
Malala’s faith, though not like my own, is real and strong and rooted in love. Malala’s courage is born from need. Malala’s mission can be achieved when we stop fighting about who is right and who is wrong.
Also, this taught me more about compassion for those who feel cornered with no way out. It is difficult to dream of peace and to take the high road when your village is stripped of all technology and to walk down the street could very well be the last thing you do in your entire life. This taught me that we can never know another’s life, and so to judge another is useless and vain, building only our own sense of fragile ego.
Most of all, like I said before, her story leaves me with the sense that our own country could run to a disastrous end unless we learn to unite for the rights of all people and stop thinking of “oppression” as “my teacher won’t lead the whole class in prayer” and as “it’s not Happy Holidays!” Real oppression is so far away from that shallow, white-washed DREAM of oppression (I swear, some people I’ve met, they WANT to be martyrs, they DESIRE to be oppressed so they can say, “See??? Jesus was right! People will hate you for His sake!!!!”) that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even those gratingly irritating people who claim it at every turn.
This is why I teach.
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
“Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”
“Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.”
“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.”
Note: I have ordered the Young Reader’s Edition of this to teach in my Language Arts 1 class next year.