Monday, 19 September 2016

I Am Malala: A Book Review

If someone were to randomly ask you, "Do you know what project Bill has taken up recently?", you'd more likely than not, say, "Bill who?!"

If someone were to even simply ask you, "Do you know who Steve is?", you'd more likely than not, look at them perplexedly and ask, "Steve who?!"

But, if they were to ask you, "Do you know what campaign Malala has taken up recently?" those who have heard the name before would know deep down exactly which Malala they are referring to.

Malala Yousafzai, to be precise.

A name that her grandfather used to say, means grief-stricken. Today, millions classify it as a name that deserves respect; a name that demands respect. It is from her story as told in her book, I am Malala, titled so aptly, that we realize the depths to which this girl has gone to fight for the rights of millions of education-deprived girls out there, out in this world, of which we all are a part, though we so often fail to understand and accept it. And, all this beginning at the age of eleven? After reading her story, we realize that Malala is so much more than the fourteen-year-old Girl Who Was Shot by the Taliban. She was the girl who was shot, yet stood up re-energized and continued her fight for education and peace.

"I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" written by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb is not just any other non-fiction book. At first glance, it may appear to recount Malala's story - where she grew up, how she grew up, how her parents' lives played a big role in affecting hers, and so on and so forth.

But what we fail to realize is that it's not just a 320-page autobiography of one person. In these pages, lies the biography of million of girls out there who are deprived of education. Quoting Malala from her Nobel Peace Prize Speech, "I tell my story, not because it is unique but because it is not. It is the story of many girls. Though I appear as one girl, one person... I am not a lone voice. I am not a lone voice. I am many. I am those sixty-six million girls who are deprived of education and today, I am not raising my voice. It is the voice of those sixty-six million girls."

Set in Swat Valley, Pakistan in the year 2012, the story of this young girl leaves one spellbound. It begins with the prolog which recounts the events that unfolded on that fateful day leading up to the time Malala was shot. Divided into five parts, the book then leads the readers into the first part which describes how Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, struggled to fulfill his dream of setting up a school in Swat, how Malala's parents met and the struggles of their early married life, Malala's birth and her early childhood as a student in her father's school in the pre-Taliban days, while also incorporating certain aspects of the Pakistani and Pashtun culture.

A certain characteristic of this part of the book and the next, which talks of the advent of the Taliban and how the lives of the people changed drastically, is that it tends to dwell a lot more on Pakistani history and politics than what the average reader might be able to take in at one go. For a history fanatic, it would be quite interesting, but for others, it might turn out to be quite a bore. On the other hand, some people argue that it all acts to build a foundation to help the reader understand where Malala came from, who she was, and what shaped her beliefs and views. Others say that here, we find Christina Lamb's voice speaking rather than Malala's. And it's all about the reader's perception and expectations from the book.

While readers might be picking up this book to learn more about Malala, herself, they should also remember that the book was published with the intent to campaign for girls' rights to education in patriarchal societies and for the cause to find a place in a reader's heart, the writers were bound to paint a picture of the culture embedded in such societies, which they could do only by recounting the events which led to such a belief. The book wants to tell Malala's story while at the same time, wanting its readers to understand who Malala was and what the millions of Malalas out there have to go through. In the version published by Phoenix in 2014, an interview of Malala by her US editor, Judy Clain has also been included. The photos of Malala's childhood and her life after the attack also lend a more personal touch to the book. Some readers might find those two things more interesting than the book itself.

But, as mentioned before, we need to remember that the book has been written with a different goal in mind. The book has been written with a view to stirring something in the readers' hearts, and that something is not sympathy for Malala, but the desire to share Malala's passion for education and peace.

To be able to speak up and not be afraid, to just be able to set foot in school every day - it is not something that should be taken for granted. This book has taught all this and so much more. And what's inspiring is that it's not just the book; not just the words that are doing the magic. It's the story itself.

As the story progresses to the day that Malala was shot, having been targeted by the Taliban for "spreading secularism," to her recovery in Birmingham and her new life there, we suddenly realize that all this happened in the past five years or so. One thing that seemed lacking here is that the writer failed to mention years while quoting dates. Take for example when Malala writes, "On 12 July, I turned fifteen..." There's so much going on in the story that one loses track of time and although the book provides a timeline of important events in Pakistan and Swat at the back, it would have helped to connect the events together and relate them to what was going on in our own lives at that time, had the author mentioned the year in the course of writing the story itself.

Moving on, some argue that the facts have been tainted by the beliefs of the writers. Some say that Pakistan and America have been unnecessarily portrayed in a bad light, as you can tell when during one instance in the book, Malala refers to her country's politicians as "useless." And well, one can never be sure how objective the authors have been. The page of acknowledgments at the end of the book reveals how Christina Lamb took the help of various people while recounting Pakistan's story, but eventually, it is up to us to exercise caution when deciding what we want to believe.

So, ultimately, is this a book worth recommending? Yes. Yes, it is. I urge you - not to merely read this book and digest its content, but to read this book and introspect. Introspect and then, take necessary action. An action that can make a difference. Because the world needs peace and the world needs love, and if there is one thing that can bring forth love and peace, it is education. As the millions of girls out there say, I am Malala, not because I am her, which I am not, but because I choose to speak up. I am Malala and so are you. All you have to do is find your voice and let it out. And the first step is to go out, pick up this book (buy from Amazon) and start reading.

Written by Priyanshi Sheth
"Namaste!" from a creative, Indian soul who aims to keep herself motivated as she writes, travels, photographs, and thereby, shares her knowledge.

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