I didn’t think that there would be that much of interest in a book about someone so young, written by someone so young, yet I was blown away by her ability to put her life and experiences into words. Malala, a devout Muslim who loves her religion, has written not only an autobiography of her life, but also a brief history of her country with special emphasis on the Pashtun people, their customs and their culture. Malala and her family are members of a Pashtun Tribe, as are most people who live in the Swat Valley she so loves. Although she was just a teen when an attempt on her life was made, an attempt which almost succeeded, her courage and bravery continued to shine in the years afterward. She endured pain, disabilities and surgeries but seemed always to have a positive attitude buoyed up by her own prayers and the prayers of others. The Taliban and their barbaric methods did not silence her; actually, their brutality only furthered her reputation of heroism. She rose to fight another day. Although she now lives in Birmingham, England, with all of life’s modern conveniences that are in stark contrast to her home in Pakistan, she still yearns to return to the Swat Valley with its warmth, basic life and beauty that she so adores. She yearns to return to her home, her room, her teachers, her friends, and her school, the school that was founded by her father. She still continues her struggle for women’s rights in the Islamic world. She is a fan of President Obama and John Kerry because of their public, personal stand on civil rights. She appears not to be a great fan of former President Bush or of other leaders who have negatively influenced her country to advance the cause of their own. In that light, in the present day, her opinion of President Obama may have changed, as well, but there is no mention of that in the book.
The attempt on her life was meant to silence her voice, a voice that spoke out for more freedom and civil rights for the women of Pakistan, largely the right to have an education and the limiting of the more severe Sharia Laws. The Taliban banned education for women. In school, most of Malala’s friends wanted to be doctors; it was not easy for a girl to be anything but a teacher or a doctor in her country. Malala wanted to be in politics. She wanted to be a spokesperson to enable change and additional freedoms for girls and women. The methods the Taliban used to accomplish all of their ancient goals and enforce Sharia Law, were barbaric and savage. The people in Swat Valley were frightened, but not Malala. She believed that one person had the power to make a difference, to change things, and if it was her duty to do this, than so be it; she would face the danger.
Malala was 14 when her nightmare began. In 2012, she was shot on her way to exams. A top student, she was hoping to, once again, place first. However, after being shot, she remembers little about what happened except for her dreams which were inaccurate. She knows that the bus suddenly stopped and someone approached wanting to know who Malala was. Although no one spoke, their eyes gave her away. She was the only child on the bus with a face that was not covered. A spray of bullets also injured two of her friends, but she received a bullet to the head which was a grave injury threatening her life. It is miraculous that she recovered. With the help of modern medicine and technology, she has been restored almost fully.
This book illustrates the corruption that exists in Pakistan and uncovered the fear that most of the residents lived with because of the Taliban threats. It reveals the worst attributes of the Taliban and other radical Islamists. It also exposes the worst traits of the Pashtun people, as well as shining a light on their better attributes. The guilt she places on outside countries and international intervention into the affairs of Pakistan permeate many threads of the narrative. A reasonably backward part of the world was thrust into the spotlight by America’s war and suffered the consequences of misplaced bombs, drone attacks and governments that changed with the wind. It seems that each successive government promised reforms which were short lived or which became corrupt when the leaders reneged on their promises and became like their predecessors, whom they had overthrown. The coalition forces often misjudged or misunderstood the traumatic effect of their involvement in Pakistani affairs. They supported dictators whom the people distrusted. It was their chaotic affect on the country which helped usher in Sharia laws and the viloence of the Taliban, the very same Taliban they were trying to defeat.
Malala reads the prologue of the book herself, and she reads it in a very clear and confident manner. She is obviously extremely intelligent and mature beyond her years. She believes in non violence and also that “one person, one book, one pen”, can influence society and bring positive change. However, she respects Islamic customs and enjoys the prayers. Her effort to bring about change takes courage which she has proven is a major part of her character. Although her father was a devout Muslim, he was well educated and he never stood in her way. They actually worked together when he allowed her to join his crusade, giving many speeches, because he, too, believed that women should be entitled to education. He did not require his womenfolk to shroud themselves with burkas, although they did wear head coverings. Both father and mother supported the effort to advance the cause of equal rights.
It is very easy to listen to, and connect to, her book and its message which is universal when it comes to civil rights. Archie Panjabi does an excellent job disseminating the message of the book. Her tone is melodious and her manner warm. She reads to inform rather than to condemn or offer excessive praise and the message comes through loud and clear. She has captured the voice of Malala perfectly.