BigCalfGuy Book Club Review: I Am Malala

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I read “I Am Malala” after seeing Malala Yousafzai on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She was so poised and confident, despite her small stature and even smaller voice. I was compelled to learn her story. Especially after she told Jon that she didn’t even hate the man who shot her in the face.


Malala’s story is one of, in her own words,

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Growing up a girl in the Swat Valley, which is part of Pakistan, it was assumed that her life would consist of raising children and tending to the needs of her husband, father, and brothers. Education was never part of that destiny.

Her father owned and ran schools. He integrated girls, because he understood the power of education to open minds and to foster tolerance.

I have often wished that I could have been born in the 1940s, so that I’d be in my 20s-30s during the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War era in America. I’ve always been enamored with a time when people cared so deeply for their cause, that they were willing to drop everything and commit themselves to that cause. Be it the hippie movement of San Francisco, or protesting in Washington. America has become so fat with riches and excess that we make up stuff to be enraged about. We’ve become a largely apathetic nation to real struggle. People like Malala are getting shot for standing up for the educational rights of girls, and we’re wasting our energies on Miley Cyrus’ latest dance move. It sickens me.

Anyway, I digress…

The book begins with an entire section dedicated to Paki history and how the different ruling factions would re-write the history to suit themselves and their agendas. History has taught us that the “winners” write the history books, but some of the more blatant lies and re-writes were especially shocking to me. One ruler had everything re-done to explain how the land had always been a strong Muslim country, when in fact, it was Buddhist.

The Taliban had entered Swat Valley and was quietly assuming control, while the government looked the other way, and the people were becoming increasingly oppressed. With each successive natural disaster, the Taliban would impress upon the people that these things were their fault for not adhering more tightly to Islamic law. This meant more women with covered faces; stricter rules for going outside: a woman was not allowed to leave her home unless attended by a male member of her family. Women were not to be educated.

It intrigues me that a ruling party like the Taliban would be aware enough to fear education. A mind, once opened, can never return to its original shape/size. Malala says that in the war over which is mightier – the pen or the sword, one must not underestimate the power of the educated woman. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

To summarize the rest of the story, Malala becomes a spokeswoman and orator for women’s rights and education in Pakistan. She has a special documentary filmed about her and her family. One day, on the way home from school, a Talib jumps into the back of the truck, and shoots her in the face – obviously trying to silence her. Not only does she not dies, she gets emboldened and becomes even more powerful and influential. She was nominated for, but did not win, a Nobel Peace Prize last year, at the age of 16. She would have been the youngest recipient to date.

Here’s the part of the story that bothers my American mind:

The book is very anachronistic. At the same time people are living in cinder block houses with dirt floors and grass on the roofs, they are texting and using cell phones. The book seems to flip from abject poverty with several families living in one room, to people buying CDs and going to movies, and sending e-mails, and writing blogs. I had a very hard time imagining these things coexisting. This isn’t to say I doubt the claims, but it seems to foreign to my fragile, middle-class, white-guy mind.

Malala would likely have not survived had she not been flown from her country for extensive surgery and rehabilitation in England. There were others wounded and killed in the bus the day she was shot who didn’t receive any special attention, mostly likely because Malala had become a media darling. Such inconsistencies in care, if not based on sex; but based on social status, bothers me. I know American healthcare is terrible, and that it’s based on access, not results, but still.

Overall, a highly recommended read. It dragged for me a little in the middle, but I was no less riveted at the end, even though I knew the outcome.

I’ll leave you with some quotes:

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

Originally, I had planned next month’s book to be another autism novel, and a rather intriguing one, to boot, but I think I’ll take a different tack.

For January, BigCalfGuy’s Book Club will be reading Beauty Queens.

As a dude, I thought this book was pretty hilarious. As a Dad, I found it to be quite eye-opening.

The premise centers around a plane full of Miss Team Dream contestants who crash onto a desert island. Of course, the vast majority of them die on impact (50+ characters is too many), and the remaining 15 or so need to grow and adapt to survive. Part dark social satire, part feminist rant, all funny – I think you’ll like it.

As always, here’s the link to get your copy from Amazon. I’m using the Audible audio book format, and I think the author does a great job with the voices. It really enhances the story (at least for me).

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1 comment

    • Christie on December 30, 2013 at 7:36 pm
    • Reply

    Great review, now I’m interested

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