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I Am Malala – Book Review


By Biniyam Asnake

In the novel, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, the main character Malala is a Pakistani human rights activist for children and women. From a young age, her father, also a strong proponent of education encouraged her to stand up for what they believed in. In the traditional community of Swat in northwestern Pakistan, Malala’s father over the years built and expanded his school. At its apex, it had 1100 pupils and over seventy teachers. Unfortunately, the Taliban follows a very strict interpretation of the Quran and is completely against women’s education. On a morning in October 9, 2012, a Taliban member stopped a school bus, asked for Malala’s name, and shot her three times. She spent the following months recuperating and moved to London with her family, while the international community discovered her story. She would go on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate for advocating and fighting for education for women. This is a breathtaking novel about one girl’s fight for women’s education amidst Taliban pressure in her own region to not do so. Yousafzai does a great job writing the book in chronological order allowing the reader to better understand the events culminating to the climax of the book. She also does a fantastic job providing the reader with the social and historical context the book fits in to show the significance of her actions.

The novel, I Am Malala, is beautifully written in chronological order from Malala’s birth to her shooting. Her birth was not celebrated because only sons are celebrated from the womb, but her father insisted on a small gathering with relatives because he was sure that she would be special. Her father like her was also a children’s right to education activist who had previously gone to university in Pakistan, against his own father’s wishes. The book goes on to chronicle her father’s attempts to start a school unsuccessfully many times and the many setbacks he had to overcome. For example after finally starting the school and gaining traction with the local villages, there is a flood in the region and his school gets wiped out. Furthermore, the author magnificently sets up flow of events by talking about the awards Malala was receiving when she was ten and eleven years old by speaking out for education for all. After giving a talk called “"How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” Yousafzai shares with the reader that the Taliban then proceeded to issue a death threat against her. So when the story gets to the climax of the Taliban soldier shooting Malala in the face, the author has already successfully conveyed her life story to us and in that moment we feel her trepidation and can empathize with her unfortunate predicament.

Similarly Yousafzai conveys to the reader the crucial historical context in which her actions transpire. Yousafzai devotes a hefty portion of the first part of the book to talking about the culture in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, the differences between how men and women are treated, the Taliban’s role in everyday affairs, and girl’s traditional role of not being educated but set up to be prepared as wives for future husbands. Yousafzai explores the history of Pakistan and distinguishes the nuances that led to this fragmented country. Therefore, when she ends up becoming a blogger, for BBC, blogging about the Taliban’s new edict banning girls from attending school, we, the reader, know what major risk she’s taking because we are aware of the social context of her actions. As Malala’s prominence rises and her actions being covered in newspapers and television channels through the region, the Taliban decides to issue a kill order. Yousafzai talks about all the other death threats that she had received and her family’s decision to keep her enrolled in school although the Taliban had bombed many other schools in the previous weeks. Yousafzai’s discourse on the history of the culture of the Swat village in northwestern Pakistan and the social context in which her story takes place allows the reader to have a more informed perspective on the issues at hand.

Overall I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is a well-written story about one girl’s fight to have education for women in a region where that was far beyond the progressive ideals willing to be embraced by many. Her dissection of the chronological events in her life and the historical and social context of her actions allow the reader to better understand the profound significance of her actions and the courage it took to do what she did. Her actions have been rewarded with the International Children's Peace Prize in 2011, the Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize, a speech to the United Nations, and a Nobel Peace Prize. As reading Malala Yousafzai’s story has profoundly deepened my knowledge of Middle Eastern cultural affairs and the struggle of children, particularly women, in those countries to receive proper education, I believe it can do the same for others and better humanity.

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