“I am Malala” paints a stunning, heavenly visual of Swat Valley (See pictures here, comparable to the beauty of Canada’s Banff National Park). It also describes blow by blow, incident by incident, the downward spiral of this beautiful place which ends up in complete havoc and destruction with Taliban’s encroachment.
Malala’s personal story is woven with multiple threads about the history of her family, of the Pashto community, of Swat Valley, of Pakistan and of Afghanistan. The stories of her friendships and squabbles in school and at home and their routine life under constant death threats is written with the backdrop of Jinnah’s vision, stories of various political leaders, the burgeoning power of Taliban, and inability of Pakistan’s leaders to tackle it all. The book gives a perspective of how their society transitions and deals with new kind of unforeseen and unprecedented challenges that they are unprepared to cope with.
Christina Lamb, a renowned foreign correspondent, has relayed informative facts about America-Pakistan love-hate political relationship, various barbarous acts carried out under Hudud law and jihadi movements, and the callousness of it all.
Malala’s story is also as much about her father’s as her own. His resolute desire to run a model school, educate students, and eradicate religious extremism has visibly had an influence on Malala’s personality. It also made him as much of a potential target as herself.
There are several conspiracy theories about Malala which reflect the dire state of mistrust in Pakistan. I felt like the book also helped clear those (for those who want to believe), although that was not the purpose of the book of course. Her contribution is difficult to grasp because it is immeasurable in tangible terms and unusual beyond belief for those of us who live a normal life. The book allows us a chance to empathize with the exceedingly uncommon and enormously fear-filled life situations that she and her family (also her countrymen) deal with. We know about the presence of religious extremism in Afghanistan/Pakistan through news/media, but hearing her story first hand is eye-opening and appalling.
If there is anyone who has lived up to her name, it is Malala as she is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a national folk hero of Afghanistan. Amongst all the millions of people and children in Pakistan, she was the only 11-15 year old who has repeatedly/loudly/clearly expressed the need for girls’ education and peace in the face of death and war with Taliban. (Note: Nobel Peace Prize has generally been full of controversies due to its political nature and it is awarded to qualified nominees from a limited pool of applicants) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Peace_Prize).
Discussions of gender equality and War and development in the western world are very advanced where we take education and peace for granted. However, in her world, to even ask for Education and peace means putting one’s life on the line. It requires extraordinary courage and conviction, which she demonstrated at a very young age.
The last section of the book talks about her family’s journey from the time she was shot to their life in London. It was very intriguing to learn how and which political leaders got involved, who played what role in giving her a new life and all the extra-ordinary politics that went on behind the scenes. Highly recommend the book “I am Malala“ and also watch the documentary “He named me Malala“ (which complements the book).