Friday, June 7, 2019

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - Malala Yousafzi with Christina Lamb

Summary: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out.  Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.  In October 2012, when she was fifteen, Malala almost paid the ultimate price.  She was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.  Instead, Malala's heroic recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistanto the halls of the United Nations in New York.  At sixteen, she emerged as a global symbol of peaceful protest.  A year later she became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hailed by the Associated Press for its "arresting detail," I am Malala will make readers believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  At face value, I am Malala is about a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai and her life before and after she is shot in the head by the Taliban.  That, by itself, would be a rather compelling tale (and it was), but I am Malala covers so much more ground.  Aside from her story, it is also an impassioned treatise on the importance of education and women's rights and an appeal to speak out in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequence.  

I am Malala unveils a very different Pakistan from the one I have seen on television or read about on the news.  Through Malala's perspective, I discovered a magnificent country with a rich culture, vibrant population, and turbulent history.  She adores her Swat valley with an intensity and pride that rivals most New Yorkers' attachment to the Big Apple and, like most people, just wants to live in peace in the land of her ancestors with the same rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled.  Throughout the book, Malala speaks longingly of the beauty of her homeland and the horror of watching it become ravaged by war.  She also gave interesting insight into the traditions of her Pashtun culture, local history, and the complexities of regional politics.  Malala's story clarifies the experience of everyday people simply trying to live their lives, caught in the middle of a brawl between a militant faction of their own religion, a generally corrupt government, and the might of the US military.  As such, it brought the brutality of the Taliban and the casualties of the war on terror into focus in a way that is hard to ignore or forget.

Malala is a force of nature -- fierce, determined, independent, intelligent, and wise beyond her years.  Sure, she fights with her brothers and obsesses over Twilight, but she was also was reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at age eleven while standing up to the Taliban.  So, clearly, she's amazing.  I think Malala can credit at least a small part of her fearlessness and tenacity to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who always fostered those qualities and respected and believed in her regardless of her gender/age.  In a culture that is sometimes accused of not valuing it's women, Malala's father never expected less from her, and I truly admire him for it.  

Malala's spirituality was especially meaningful to me.  I learned a lot about the Muslim religion from this book and gained new understanding regarding the beliefs of everyday Muslims and how they differ from the extremist factions of the faith that proclaim jihad and manufacture terror.  I appreciate that clarification and wish more people understood it.  Though we come from different faiths, it became clear that what we had in common was what really mattered.  One of my favorite aspects of this book was the snippets of wisdom (some spiritual, others secular) scattered throughout.  Here are a few examples:  
  • One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.
  • Don't accept good things from bad people.
  • If people were silent, nothing would change.
  • You must speak the truth.  The truth will abolish fear.
  • Don't be afraid.  If you're afraid you can't move forward.
  • At night our fear is strong...but in the morning, in the light we find our courage again.

Here are a few longer ones as well:
  • In my heart was the belief that God would protect me.  If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong.  It's my duty to do so.  God wants to see how we behave in such situations. ...If one man...can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?... I prayed to God every night to give me strength.
  • My father used to say the people of Swat and the teachers would continue to educate our children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive.  My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever.  Though we loved school, we hadn't realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us.  Going to school, reading, and doing our homework wasn't just a way of passing time, it was our future. 
  • I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.  We were learning how to struggle.  And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.
  • Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities.  Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country -- this is my dream.  
I am Malala is a fervent plea for education on behalf of the world's women, a fascinating historical account, and a useful guide on standing for what's right, overcoming trials, and finding gratitude in unexpected places.  Ultimately, this not just Malala's story (however well told).  It is also is the story of everyday people who, in their own ways, stood up for what's right and said ENOUGH.  I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some descriptions of atrocities committed by the Taliban, ruling government of Pakistan, and US military.

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