I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai & Christina Lamb
Published: 2013, Little, Brown and CompanyGenre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Source: From my university
Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.
Most people know who Malala is, at least on some level. As the subtitle states, Malala is the girl who continued to promote the importance of female education in a Taliban-controlled country, who was considered enough of a threat to ultimately get shot, and who now has become a major symbol in education and gender rights movements. But she is so much more than simply a symbol, but a daughter, a sister, a Swat Valley resident, a Muslim, a girl unafraid to stand up for her values. We all know the superhuman side of Malala, and this memoir gives readers the chance to see Malala’s human side.
When my university offered me the opportunity to receive a free copy of this book to read so that I could then lead some book discussions in the surrounding community, I jumped at the chance. Nonfiction – memoirs especially – are not my typical choice in reading material, but every once in a while I find they can open my eyes to current global events in new and important ways, and that was certainly the case here.
As the novel was written only a year after Malala’s shooting and international rise to fame, the majority of the novel is retrospective, providing context about her life up until that point, as well as some history of her world.
Malala had the fortune of being born to a father who does not subscribe to his country’s traditional beliefs “where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children.” Rather, Malala became her father’s pride and joy, and from the beginning was named after Afghan heroine Malalai of the Maiwand, who was instrumental in the Afghan battle against British occupation. From the beginning, Malala’s father gave her access to education and encouraged a mentality that was uncommon among Pakistani girls. Her mother, although more traditional in some ways, nevertheless allowed Malala to follow a more unconventional path. Our circumstances that shape us as much as core values, and that was certainly the case here. Without her father’s encouragement and her mother’s support, without the value of education instilled in her from a young age, would Malala have become the same type of person?
In addition to discussing her family life, Malala also spends a lot of time on the history, culture, and religion of her world, and how they have shaped her. I am Malala balances on a fine line between criticism and support of Malala’s beloved country. And it’s made abundantly clear that Malala does love her country, despite questioning some of its practices and inefficiency. It’s her family’s pride of their Swat Valley, their strong ties to their Pashtun ancestry, and their nationalism towards their Pakistani citizenship that allows them to continue living at their home, long after its Taliban occupation and the threats against Malala and her father began. It’s clear that Malala loves her country, but she is also not afraid to recognize its imperfections with regard to military prowess, education standards, and treatment of women. Most impressively, both the criticism and adoration she feels come across as genuine.
I am Malala introduces readers to many concepts, some familiar but explained in more depth, and some completely new. The depth of historical and cultural information can feel dense at times, but it ultimately contributes to a much fuller picture of Malala’s world. A glossary can be found in the back, but readers should still expect to spend a bit more time trying to understand many of the fascinating complexities of Malala’s world.
I learned a lot reading this book. It’s one thing to hear events related from a Western journalistic perspective, but quite something else to learn about them from someone with such intimate ties. While it may not always be the most interesting or well-written book, it touches on subjects that are highly necessary to understand in order to become a global citizen. Malala is truly inspirational, and the story she tells is one that needed to be told.
Rating: 3 stars