Book review: ‘I Am Malala,’ by Malala Yousafzai
Special to the Daily
Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were all iconic individuals who spent their lives working for peace and prosperity. Legendary and worthy of their status, these people put the good of society before their own self-importance, risking their lives to stand tall against repression and hate. Unlike them, each of whom rose to claim his or her place in the history books as an adult, Malala Yousafzai came to prominence simply for being a young girl eager to educate herself in a land where education for females is challenging and dangerous. Now, two years on, rare is the person who has not heard of this astonishing girl, the youngest to ever be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In her beautifully written book, “I Am Malala,” Malala paints a captivating picture of an extraordinary young woman who is so much more than just the girl made famous for being shot by the Taliban in her home country of Pakistan. Filled with charming anecdotes of a rich family life and evoking a wonderful sense of place, Malala’s book tells of her early years enjoying the atypical circumstance of being the apple of her father’s eye, a rarity in a country that does not celebrate its girls. In Pakistan, females are destined for the hearth and an early marriage, an outdated concept for the 21st century, certainly, but pervasive, nonetheless, in many parts of the world.
From a young age, Malala wanted more from life, and she received unusual support at home, especially from her father, a situation which set her on the path that led to the fateful day when she found herself facing the barrel of a gun on her way home from school.
Speaking with no bitterness, but with an astounding wisdom and maturity, Malala recounts the events, both personal and across the region, that gave rise to the happenings on that unforgettable day when her name burst into the international limelight. Her story begins with her parents, whose histories are fascinating and which shine a light on the person Malala became. In particular, her father’s sense of equality was uncommon, and his passion for education ran deeply — so deeply that he toiled against convention, tradition and Pakistan’s rising fundamentalism to open a school that included education for girls, including his own.
He quickly learned that this undertaking came with many challenges. Aside from the normal financial woes, he had to battle Pakistan’s deep culture of corruption and its profound history of patriarchy. Despite the hurdles, her father persevered, and opened his school, fully committed and willing to be jack-of-all-trades — teacher, headmaster, secretary and janitor. Malala absorbed her father’s passion for learning and his generous spirit, watching him give spots in class to children whose parents were unable to pay the tuition. She learned quickly that education was a privilege, an opportunity not given to many in her community. She saw the orphans who scavenged on the town refuse piles, digging for any scraps they could trade for food. She swore to herself that she would do twofold — educate herself first and then use her education to help others in need.
As Malala describes her own young life, with its typical youthful concerns, she also shines a clear light on the dangerous noose that closes in around her city. Malala came of age in the time of the rise of the Taliban, being just a toddler when 9/11 occurred. Her book provides a very unique perspective on the ripple effects of that momentous day. Suddenly, the world’s gaze was fixed on Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and her scenic valley became a haven for the most violent members of the Taliban. With their presence, Malala’s father became more concerned for his own safety, but perhaps through wishful thinking, he shrugged off any suggestions that he should keep Malala home and out of the spotlight. He couldn’t comprehend that anyone would even consider violence against a child, so she continued to study and to speak out for education for girls.
But, of course, as the world now knows, the Taliban did sink to such a low, shooting Malala in the head in a bus full of her young classmates, sending her along an arduous path of pain, struggle and slow recovery.
The most astounding part of Malala’s story, though, is her resiliency and the depths of her soulfulness. Not once, even with all the fear and the pain of her long recovery, did she exhibit a desire for revenge or retribution. Instead, she awoke from her ordeal with a new and more fiercely committed sense of purpose, feeling as though she had been spared for a reason by the god of the faith she knows has been hijacked by some for ill deeds.
If the Taliban had hoped that snuffing out her young life would make the passion for learning and equality that she represented disappear, they must surely be disappointed. Not only has Malala lived, she has thrived, becoming a beacon around the world for a new generation and for a new revolution of peace like that inspired by those iconic figures who have gone before her. The world will be hearing from Malala for many years, and we will all be the better for it.
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