One of my goals every year with reading is to read diversely. That means not just reading about middle class white people in America as written by men. It means reading more books by women, by non-white authors, by authors who live in different countries, by people of other religions. It means reading more non-fiction because I have a tendency to get swept up by fictional worlds, and it means reading things that I need to know, not necessarily things that will entertain me.
Fortunately for me, I was able to find a book that ticked many of the boxes that I set for myself above, and while it may only be one book to start, it’s a good start, and I’m really glad I read it, because it did entertain and engage me in spite of a difficult subject matter. That book was “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb), the memoir of the young girl who was shot by the Taliban. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I knew she’d written a book. It was one of those big news type events in the book world because she’s so inspiring, and it’s another way to say “F— YOU” to the people who shot her for speaking out for girls education. And then a year later she won the Nobel Peace Prize, as the youngest laureate ever at age 17. So while I didn’t know a whole lot, I knew that this was probably a book that needed to be read.
The book is the story of Malala’s life, which being told, needs to go back to how her parents were raised, how they met and married, and her early days. The book ties in important information about the recent history of Pakistan as well – things I did not know and probably should have. When Malala enters the picture as a fully conscious young person, the story begins to take off in a lot of interesting directions, because this is around the time that the Taliban were really starting to take hold in her hometown. Her father (who founded and owned a school) went through so many troubles in trying to recruit students, and then once he had many students, religious authorities were telling him that he should be shutting down the girls section.
On top of the struggles to keep the school open, the Yousafzai must deal with the repercussions of the earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2008, and generally destroyed infrastructure and made entrepreneurial ventures like the school difficult to maintain. But in spite of all this, they struggled on, and were able to keep things open. During this time, Malala wrote a diary for the BBC, which was published online in the hopes that it would inspire those who read it in a similar way that Anne Frank’s diary moved people after WWII. She also participate in a documentary for the New York Times about the time when their girls school was closed.
I knew about none of this. I don’t know why. Girls being denied education in a part of the world that the US had specific interest in, with a group opposing the education being one that we as a country were supposed to be fighting against? Maybe it was a bigger story, and I just wasn’t paying enough attention. Obviously major news outlets were picking up the thread of Malala and her family’s struggles to keep a school open. What I do remember about Malala is hearing about when she was shot, and all the effort that went into saving her. I didn’t know all the details, and obviously she and her contributing writer had to get details from the people who were around her at the time, but it’s amazing to hear about how dangerous things got. How close she was to death, and about all the amazing people who contributed to her recovery, both in Pakistan and in the UK.
What’s even more amazing is how at the end of the book, you can tell that she is persevering – she is still trying hard for her education, even though she’s in a more difficult setting, having to deal with the pressures of fame, and being far away from extended family, friends and homeland. She has since won the Nobel Prize, and set up a charity (The Malala Fund) to continue the work to educate girls.
The book itself is good. It gave me a better understanding of what was happening in that part of the world during the early party of this century, and I think that understanding is an important basis upon which I’ll be able to learn more in the future. It’s written with a young tone of voice, which is appropriate to the author, but is potentially distracting at times. It does not always take itself so seriously, and some of my favorite moments are those when Malala reveals herself to be a real human girl, like when she worries during her time as an internally-displaced-person about her Ugly Betty DVDs. Yes – that was a real concern. I read the full, unabridged version, but as I understand it, there’s a version that’s written specifically for children, and I can only imagine what kind of impact this book would have on a young mind. Perhaps I’ll poke the boy to get a copy for his older daughter H, because while I’m sure she’s reading good books, I wonder how many IMPORTANT books you ever have the chance to read as a young person.
Should you read this book? Yes. Definitely. Especially if you don’t know much about Malala’s story. And if you have a young person in your life (probably 8 and up), I bet the kids version would be a good thing for them to read as well.
Details: “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, published 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.