I got this book as part of my "nonfiction books that I've been meaning to read forever and am now going to sit my butt down and actually read them" New Year's Resolution. It's been reviewed and praised widely by people around the globe, and the writer has even won a Nobel Peace Prize. She continues to advocate for girls' education and the right to education of all children generally. So without further ado:
I checked I Am Malala out from a county library, where I had to return it today. Otherwise, I think I might like to own this memoir. Even if I didn't read it cover to cover every time, there are sections, stories, and other pieces throughout the book that I would have loved to mark to come back to.
|[Image description: Malala wears a bright pink headscarf
and a slight smile on her face; blue background. Text
reads "I Am Malala: the girl who stood up for
education and was shot by the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai
and Christina Lamb.]
For instance, Malala's explanation of how a military dictator came to power in Pakistan is chilling. He was constantly covered by the press, swore to drain the swamp of political insiders and institutions, work for people in poor and rural areas, and...wait for it...release his tax returns. All of which, of course, he never did. Americans need to read this shit because they need to be more aware of what's going on in other parts of the world, and also because we need to be more aware of what's happening in our own backyard.
Malala and her family are awesome
I read this as I was listening to Born A Crime. It's always interesting how books you read at or close to the same time feed into each other. Both authors had incredibly influential parental figures.
Malala's father, as she describes him, was a local organizer in Swat. He grew up poor and started a school with his best friend, almost going broke a dozen times. The school grew and so did his profile as an activist. Malala grew up exposed to that at a young age, and her parents were supportive when she wanted to campaign for girls' education herself.
Her mother supported these goals but always worried about their safety; she did not like that Malala had such a high profile at such a young age because it made her a target. Despite the high profile and threats that their family received, they never backed down. Malala was shot partly to silence her father.
The majority of the book is not about the shooting, but about the events of Malala's early life and her family's life before her; the area of Swat where she grew up; the history, culture, and politics of Pakistan, and basically everything that you need to understand who she is, who her family and country are, and why she was shot. You need to understand all of these things to put the shooting in context.
I knew about these events and heard about the shooting on the news, but my understanding of Pakistan and the Middle East in general comes from an American perspective -- world history, political science, gender issues, etc. as taught in schools. It's a very formal and, because of that, limited perspective. We get the broad sweep of history and the most important names and dates.
So reading a first-hand account of what it was like to grow up in Swat, be forced to be a refugee in your own country, and experience the "War on Terror" and the capture of Osama bin Laden from inside Pakistan was illuminating. It's depressing to read about children growing up in the midst of violence -- and later becoming targets for violence themselves -- but it's important to read about because people need to be aware.
The sections which describe violence are not graphic or stomach-churning. You may get a bit grossed out by some of the surgical details later in the book, but those are very mild on the gross-out scale and easily skimmable.
Life and times
Of course, not everything in the book is about violence. There are happy times and normal times. Americans have a perspective of the Middle East as pervasively violent and dangerous, which I Am Malala shows to be untrue. In her culture, neighbors are like family; they can drop in any time to chat, borrow food, or just hang out. This, she writes, was one of the biggest culture shocks of moving to Birmingham with its quiet streets, where people live behind fences and don't really talk to their neighbors.
Malala also mentions that her classmates in Birmingham, England didn't quite see her as a normal girl yet, because she was internationally famous. She emphasizes that she is just an ordinary person, and didn't pursue activism for fame. She doesn't want her cause to be about her. She's an ordinary teenager who styles her hair, gossips with friends, reads, competes with classmates for top marks, and fights with her brothers.
A recurring topic that came up was Twilight, which Malala and her friends read. They would pretend to be vampires, and once, Malala remarks that it seemed easier to be a Twilight vampire than a girl from Swat. That cracked me up because most of the people I know who read Twilight wanted to be Bella, but these girls all wanted to be vampires. (Which, let's face it, would be way better than being Bella.)
Malala's love for the valley where she was born shines through, and her homesickness shines through just as keenly. I think I picked up on that more because, though I was never forced from my home, I've experienced the same feelings of homesickness. I'd thought I'd shelved those feelings on my Feelings Shelf for good, but reading someone else's experiences made me realize I related to that more than I would have liked.
|The River Swat. (picture by Designer 429; source)
[Image description: a clear blue-green river winds away through mountain peaks, passing rocky banks and
evergreen forests. Bridges and white-and-brick buildings line the banks amid green fields.]
Malala writes lovingly of mountains, streams, trees, mangoes, the old Buddha statues in the valley, describes playing in the snow, and renders the hustle and bustle of the city in careful detail. You can tell she misses it with every line. Throughout the book and in the interview at the back, she repeats her desire to return home eventually.
I hope that one day she gets her wish.