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“My father used to say, ‘I will protect your freedom, Malala. Carry on with your dreams.’” – Ziauddin Yousafzai, I am Malala.
Prior to reading this book, I knew Malala Yousafzai as the 15 year old girl who was shot for wanting an education, as the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, as the girl who addressed the U.N but upon reading this book I have come to realise that it was simply a small chapter in her story. And that is perhaps precisely why everyone should read ‘I am Malala’. Although it is only fair that I warn you that this book contains explicit violence and perhaps children under 15 shouldn’t read it just yet.
‘I am Malala’ is the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai co-written with Christina Lamb, a British foreign correspondent. The book focuses primarily on the goals of Malala Yousafzai and her faher Ziauddin Yousafzai that is education for all children, especially girls and an emphasis on awareness and the perils of ignorance.
I don’t usually talk about book covers in my reviews but I am going to spare a moment this time because Malala’s face on the book cover, a pink scarf draped around her head is an act of defiance. But even more eye catching is a lingering smile that reaches her eyes; it’s a kind smile. Her smile used to be even livelier before the shooting affected her facial nerves. She was smiling and laughing, running a mental list of things she needed to revise before her exam when a strange man climbed on her school bus and asked who Malala is. She was shot before she could respond but now she has laid her story bare for the world to see.
The book begins from her birth but traces a bit of her father’s past for context’s sake. Malala talks often about Swat, her hometown and its endless beauty. And this bit is my favourite because it isn’t often that I’ve seen Pakistan outside the lens of politics. ‘I am Malala’ isn’t just a chronological compilation of the events in Malala’s life. Its beauty lies in the authentic human experiences that make up her life; her unshakable desire beat her classmate Malka-e-Noor in exams and the way her family stays up at night, unable to sleep through the gunfire and the bombings. The frustration and hopelessness they feel during the years of terror is palpable and begs the question how can someone be so inhuman.
And that is why her story is so important. From a very early age she has shown interest in learning and books and by the time she was 12, she was speaking up for girl’s education in a hostile environment (For context, I was debating which Jonas brother is better looking when I was 12). She even wrote a diary under the pseudonym Gul Malkai to be published on BBC Urdu to record her experiences as a common person living under the Taliban rule. And that the end of the day, that’s what she is – a common person. She mentions at the end of the book that she is known as Malala, the girl’s rights activist in her school in England when at her home she is just Malala. And that makes her story even more powerful. In her own words, she was afraid but much more courageous. It is easy to ask basic rights when someone is willing to give it to you but to fight for it in a hostile environment requires courage.
Someone else who has always fought for basic rights in a hostile environment is Ziauddin Youafzai, Malala’s father. He has been a model for her and a bright spot for every single girl out there by convincing people to invest in their education. Malala, being a Muslim, also talks about Islam and how it is misinterpreted for power. Malala’s religion and religion which acts as a propaganda for terrorism are different; Malala’s Islam is peace loving and kind.
There is an instinct in most of us that upon coming across something horrifying, we look away. We turn away thinking the problem is not ours and this is one of the ways in which the situation in Swat and Pakistan escalated. This book is important because it will break your heart, scare you, might even trigger something but above everything else, it will make sure you don’t look away.