I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
Summary: A memoir describing a Swat Valley family committed to education, including the education of girls, Malala’s shooting by a Taliban fighter, and her recovery from near death.
Malala Yousafzai was a fifteen year-old schoolgirl who had advocated for the basic right of education for girls, along with her father, a school director. On October 9, 2012, she nearly payed with her life for that advocacy, having been targeted some months before by a Taliban cell, and nearly killed by a bullet to the head.
The larger story is one of a daughter born in a society that values sons who had an exceptional father committed to education, including the education of girls. She describes his struggle to build a school in their village in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, which she describes as a beautiful garden spot nestled in the mountains not far from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. She describes a setting where Muslim piety, education, and love of one’s place all wove together with a fair amount of harmony, given the tumultuous political history of Pakistan.
She traces the changes that came after 9/11, and when the Taliban, routed from Afghanistan, infiltrated her country, despite the official denials of government and military, who often seemed oblivious to what was right under their noses. She describes how they won the hearts of some of the native peoples through the use of radio broadcasts and then increasingly dominated the society, requiring burkas, and closing schools, especially schools for girls. Malala and her father were among those who spoke against this. Malala even kept a blog diary under the assumed name of Gul Makai.
Finally, Pakistani military routed the Taliban, though they failed to capture the leaders. The threats went underground but still existed. It was thought that Malala’s father was the endangered one until the attack on her bus when she was critically wounded and two other girls were hit.
The last part of the book chronicles the fight for her life, both in Pakistan, and eventually in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, the skilled and loving care of Dr. Fiona and Dr. Javid, and her struggle to recover from the head wound, a severed facial nerve, loss of hearing, and the swelling of her brain. As she recovers physically, she and her family discover they are exiles in England, at risk if they try to return to Pakistan. (Since this was written, she returned once, in 2018 to meet the prime minister and give a speech in her home town of Mingora.)
The value of this memoir is to listen to a devout Muslim woman who is not a terrorist and does not want to enforce sharia law, but aspires to the things women around the world do–an education, dignity, the freedom to choose one’s entertainment, to be secure in her home. She shares the rich culture of a Pashtun Pakistani, the sincere devotion of her faith, and her love of her people. In her conclusion, she writes:
“I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him all day. He is the greatest. By giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities. Peace in every home, every street, village, every country–this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.”
Whether we share Malala’s faith, do we not share Malala’s dream? Wouldn’t it be a different world if we sought this dream for all of God’s children? Malala asks us, why not?