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Book Review: I Am Malala

Malala Yousafzai has become a symbol of hope for millions around the world. The youngest ever nominee of the Nobel Peace, she tells the story of her struggles and dreams in her bestselling autobiography
BY Achala Upendran |   19-11-2013
Malala Yousafzai Addressing the UN Youth Assembly; Photo courtesy: www.unmultimedia.org
I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, published by Hachette India

On 8 October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was an ordinary young Pakistani school-girl who shot in the head by a Taliban assailant as she made her way home from school in her home town of Mingora, Swat Valley, Pakistan. Why was she shot? She was a girl who wanted to attend school, against the Taliban’s wishes.

Miraculously, Malala survived and since then, has become   a symbol of hope for all those children who still struggle to attend school. She is the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and was designated one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2013.

It is easy to forget that Malala is just a teenager, excited about Bollywood movies, reading Twilight and trying out different hairstyles in front of a mirror. Her autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, however, reminds us that Malala’s achievements and strength of mind is truly remarkable; more so because she is a sixteen year old girl.

Will the Real Malala Please Stand Up

Malala’s voice, no doubt guided and fleshed out in parts by Christina Lamb (OBE, Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the Sunday Times) is candid and sympathetic.  I Am Malala presents the story of her family’s struggles to establish not just one, but two schools in the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan and the subsequent troubles brought on by the arrival of the Taliban. Malala’s father’s journey from college to successful founder of Khushal School is chronicled in great detail. Her story seems to take off from his, their heroism flowing into and feeding each other.

The political history of Pakistan is confusing even for those who are well-versed in international events. Swat Valley in particular has had a turbulent time, both due to natural disasters and political conflict. The region was in the grip of Pakistani arm of the Taliban till 2009 when the Pakistan Army launched a forceful offensive and pushed the militants out. Malala describes this period in her life when she and her family, along with many of their friends, were turned into ‘IDPs’ – Internally Displaced Persons – and had to leave their home in Mingora. They returned to find the town devastated by battle. Luckily, the schools her father had set up did not suffer too much damage.

'I Am Malala' Book Cover

Malala’s story reminds her readers that things which many children take for granted, such as the basic right to go to school, can be cruelly snatched away by forces seemingly beyond one’s control. She recounts the disbelief and hopelessness that engulfed her and her classmates when, in the winter of 2008, Khushal School closed with no announcement of when it would reopen, in keeping with the Taliban’s radio announcement that ‘from 15 January girls must not go to school’. Later, she describes the fear and terror associated with an act as banal as walking to school, the longing to wear her uniform openly, the sheer will and rebelliousness needed to continue attending classes and learning.

Voice of Hope

The shooting itself and the hospital procedures that followed it, the burden of fame and the longing for ‘home’ comprise the last quarter of the book. Here is where the narrative tends to get a little lost in the details of surgical procedure and Malala’s voice seems to disappear. What does come through, however, is the anxiety of her parents and the bewilderment arising from their displacement to Birmingham, far from everything they know. Despite this, the book ends on a note of hope, with Malala reaffirming her commitment to raising her voice ‘on behalf of the millions of girls around the world who are being denied their right to go to school and realise their potential’.

Malala comes across as friendly, easy to like and listen to. Her story is extraordinary, the trials she faced almost overwhelming, but she has managed to retain a good sense of humour and a level head in the face of fame. She declares at the end of the book: ‘I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.'

 

Achala Upendran is a Staff Writer at braingainmag.com. She graduated from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi with a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature. She is obsessed with fantasy fiction and movies, and also blogs regularly.

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