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I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
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September 2020: Other Books > [Poll Ballot] [Trim] I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai - 4 Stars

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Heather Reads Books (gothicgunslinger) | 320 comments Malala Yousafzai is undoubtedly a brilliant and courageous young woman. Her account of being born and raised in Pakistan's Swat Valley, which has endured a corrupt government, a militant takeover by the Taliban, what amounted to all-out war, and multiple natural disasters is harrowing and gut-wrenching. She tells her story with confidence and resilience, and never backs down from her stance that all girls – and indeed all children – in the world deserve a quality education. What I especially appreciated was the political context given to the events happening in Pakistan, as south Asia is not an area I really know much about. It particularly helped me understand Pakistan's role in the War on Terror, and why it was so easy for the Taliban to take over Swat. A corrupt government, run by the military, who are likely in league with the militants directly or indirectly, explains an awful lot. Also, I remember this from a documentary I watched about her a few years ago, but her father has nerves of steel. She owes a lot of her platform to him, because he was relentless about providing education in the Swat Valley to boys and girls, defying conservative traditions, corrupt politicians, power-hungry militants, death threats and assassination attempts against himself and his friends and family. Malala rightly gives him credit in the book, and the story is his as much as hers.

That said, there are a few things I yearned for which this book did not provide. First, its timeliness was to the early 2010s, when Malala's shooting by the Taliban was fresh in the Western media. There were points when I thought maybe the book was coming too close on the heels of the attack, and would have liked to see a little more introspection from Malala that only time could provide. I know that nowadays she's received a college degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford, and I would like to have seen maybe a little more academic analysis also. I found myself wishing for a revised version or some sort of followup book. (Which may exist, I'm just not aware of it as of this writing.) She was so young when all of this stuff happened to her, and although she's very precocious and tenacious, you can still tell it's the story of a child. (I believe she was sixteen when this was written.)

Second, the story is obviously written for a Western audience. There's extensive explanations of Islam, the Quran, traditions of the Pashtun people, and the history of Pakistan. While some of this I appreciated, as I said earlier, I know enough about Islam to not need my hand held, and I couldn't help but think of when I studied Orientalism in graduate school. The anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod wrote once that if you write to a Western audience about an Eastern Islamic "other," no matter what your intentions, you are still contributing to the Orientalist project, and I couldn't help but think of that here. I wondered what Malala might say differently if she was speaking to, say, the girls she wants to educate, instead of the Western audience captivated by her story (who might monetarily support her education fund). It's a sticky wicket, and I don't doubt her intentions are pure, but these are the sort of nuances I suspect she would have studied in college, and I would be curious to read more from her now that she has a more academic framework. Plus, the world in 2020 is very different from the world in 2013, when this book was written. I'd love to hear what she thinks about a variety of geopolitical issues, like Donald Trump, the rise of authoritarianism in the West, COVID-19, climate change, and what all of that means for the cause of global education.

Finally, I know this book was written "with" Christina Lamb, but there's not much more information given about what Lamb contributed to the project. Was she a translator? An editor? Did she do interviews of Malala's friends and family? Was she providing the political and historical sections? Everything is written in first person from Malala's point-of-view, and without more information I just wondered which parts were truly Malala's voice and which ones were someone else's (and a Westerner, too, the implications of which go back to my previous point).

All in all, it was a good read, though at times heart-wrenching, and at times a little frustrating in its simplicity. But there's no doubt that Malala is a force to be reckoned with, and as many world powers continue to turn against human rights, people like her are absolutely essential to our survival.

message 2: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7254 comments Very nice review. I picked this up when it first came out, but I never finished it. I can't say why I put it down. Perhaps I should give it another try.

Heather Reads Books (gothicgunslinger) | 320 comments Joanne wrote: "Very nice review. I picked this up when it first came out, but I never finished it. I can't say why I put it down. Perhaps I should give it another try."

Thanks! If it makes you feel any better, this was one of the oldest books on my TBR (since 2013!). I put it on my trim list hoping I would finally get to it this year. I'm glad I did, but since it's not exactly a light read, I kept passing it over for other stuff.

message 4: by Joi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joi (missjoious) | 3782 comments I read this a while back, and feeling like it was very obvious it had a ghost writer-despite the first person nature. That was my main complaint, was that it felt like a mix between third person- Malala is great- but done in the first person, so the humble person we saw being presented with a perspective of an outsider.

But totally agree, a book you feel good to have read afterwards regardless.

Heather Reads Books (gothicgunslinger) | 320 comments Joi wrote: "I read this a while back, and feeling like it was very obvious it had a ghost writer-despite the first person nature. That was my main complaint, was that it felt like a mix between third person- M..."

Yes, I agree. There were some sections that felt more like Malala herself – especially a few times when the turns of phrase seem like someone coming to English as a second language. But the political and historical sections in particular seemed more pedantic/journalistic and I felt myself wondering whether Malala would actually have that take on the situation, or whether those were provided by the co-author. All of this makes me hope Malala writes more now that she's graduated college and has the skills and maturity to tackle more complex issues.

message 6: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 08, 2020 04:30PM) (new) - added it

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5004 comments Excellent review. It's very inspiring.

I would take it for granted that she'd need the assistance of a ghost writer to help her tell her story. The story is what we want. Most people couldn't write a book at any age, much less at 16, and in another language. It's OK as long as the ghost writer does more editing than editorializing - if that makes sense.

I agree that it would be nice to read a follow-up. I would love to hear about her experiences in college. She could explain the cultural and political factors from her own perspective, and from a broader perspective. A degree in Philosophy, politics and Economics (from Oxford no less) would surely give her a broad perspective!

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