Review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

It’s a childhood divested of innocence. Instead of Cops and Robbers, the children play Taliban and Army.

Amongst staunch critics and violent threats, education activist Malala Yousafzai reclaims a voice amongst the public realm of Pakistan through her ardent passion for girls’ education. Her memoir, I Am Malala, co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, explores the gravity behind standing up for one’s values of education and equality.

Sandwiched between two of her classmates, in a packed truck, the young girls are transported home from the Khushal School on October 9, 2012. Yet, the next question posed by a young gunman, “Who is Malala?” is met with staunched silence. No matter, though, the gunman knew whom he had come for and shoots the 15-year-old at point-blank range.

It was an incident – and the inspiring survival – that propelled Malala to international recognition.

Amongst perpetual violence and political corruption, the Taliban co-opts children into the fearful realities of gender disparity beset by poverty and religious clashes. Severed heads, even of Pakistani police, become fixtures in the market square. The constant threat of bombs and gunfire permeate an anxious civilian population.

Malala and her father’s desire to instill knowledge is inspiring and passionately felt. Their shared goal of girls’ education is interwoven as a heartfelt mission. In a culture that values sons more than daughters, Malala’s father, Ziauddin, bestows his daughter with as much care and attention to help her growing potential.

Despite the fact that her mother, Tor Pekai, had left school at the early age of six, these circumstances didn’t prevent her parents from giving her education and learning opportunities. Were it not for such encouraging parents, Malala may never have become the articulate, intelligent girl acclaimed for her global fame and poignant speeches, like that which she delivered to the UN in New York in July last year.

The memoir is a beautiful testament to one girl’s unwavering dream of education. Initially, its history-heavy beginning doesn’t provoke a lot of page-turning. The writing, however, is full of clarity and conviction. This work merits in fostering a broader understanding of the political history and religious clashes since Pakistan’s independence.

Malala’s adoration for Benazir Bhutto and Muhammed Ali Jinnah frame her high aspirations to effect change in her country. Glossy photos interspersed throughout the novel also provide a glimpse into Malala’s life before and after the shooting. Photos depict her beloved homeland of Pakistan where, despite her detailing of the ominous pollutants in the river and garbage heaps, is irreplaceable in her memory as a place of pure friendship and friendly school competitions.

Malala’s covert writing for the BBC blog in diary-like format, under the pen name Gul Makai, illustrates her unhindered efforts to spread awareness about living conditions under the Taliban. Despite living in a world rife with violence, public whipping and corruption, Malala, like most teenagers, pores over her school textbooks, watches sitcoms like Ugly Betty, and reads Shakespeare and novels like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

Spilt in four parts, the memoir’s most riveting section is the final part detailing her emergency transportation to a Birmingham hospital. Riddled with hearing loss, facial paralysis and hindered movement, Malala’s eventual recovery signals a triumph for resolute bravery over brute, nihilistic forces.

I am Malala champions the best of human nature: resilience, determination and courage.

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